The state-controlled gaming commission Française des Jeux has made it official. The Var can boast the greatest number of lottery and loto millionaires per head of population and the second greatest number by department (outdone only by Seine Maritime) in France.
Statisticians are quick to point out that games of luck know no logical rules. The chance of winning or losing is the same for everyone so the high number of Var winners (4 gros lots in 2011) is proportional to the number of players, just as it is anywhere else.
Why do so may people play the lottery, loto, keno and other games of chance in the Var? A largely rural population and many retired residents is one explanation. Several military bases and a high number of immigrant agricultural workers with little else to bide away their spare time is another. But in the Var village bars and PMUs they're having none of it. "It's because here in Provence we are blessed with the luck brought by the Mistral and the blessing of Pagnol," shrugs an old timer over his morning pastis as he picks his horses for the day's tiércé.
Française des Jeux sends experts to advise winners on how to use their payout sensibly. Most keep their wits about them but a few, unused to managing such large sums, have been known to squander it. A few years ago one Var winner started distributing cash to his friends and family without calculating how much would be left for himself - which turned out to be precious little.
According to Brigitte Roth, who is in charge of financial guidance for the biggest winners, most new millionaires choose reasonable paths. "The first instinct is to invest in property, still seen as the best way to safeguard wealth for the future. The second step is to look for risk-free financial investments." It seems that the gout du risque doesn't grow with the amount in play. Someone who is used to playing a few euros a week will usually become much more prudent if he wins a large amount. A reasonable attitude says Roth. "I've known winners who used the money to start their own business even though they had won enough to live on for life. Working for themselves had always been their dream. Some even return to school to earn that degree they always wanted."
And who are these lucky varois? Roth isn't at liberty to say but her advice to each one is the same, "Don't tell anyone!" You never know how many "old friends" you have until word gets out that you've won a lot of money.