Image: Lottery ticket buyer
Alberto Pellaschiar  /  AP
A German wannabe-millionaire shows off what she had hoped would be a winning lottery ticket at the Milan airport Thursday.
updated 8/13/2009 6:35:14 PM ET 2009-08-13T22:35:14

Italy's record-breaking lottery on Thursday once again disappointed millions of Italians as well as foreigners who had crossed the border to join the hunt for the rising jackpot.

No one guessed the winning six-number combination of the Superenalotto game and the highest prize ever offered by the Italian lottery grew to $194 million.

Germans, Austrians and other foreigners headed into Italy to play the lottery before the draw, including some who flew into Milan for a few hours just for a chance to win $186 million Thursday night.

Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper said 140 passengers aboard a chartered Air Berlin jet won a phone-in contest for free airline tickets aboard an early afternoon flight from Berlin to Milan's Malpensa airport.

Besides the free seats, the winners were treated to a heaping plateful of pasta, a cup of espresso and the opportunity to buy Superenalotto tickets at a smoke shop at the Milanairport.

Later in the afternoon, without ever leaving the airport, the passengers were flying back to Berlin, "just in time for dinner and to find out if they've won," said Italy private Canale 5 TV.

No one has picked the winning numbers since January, and now the Superenalotto jackpot is Italy's biggest ever — and, according to Italian news reports, the biggest in Europe, as well. Drawings are held three times a week.

Lotto fever
Austrians, Croats and Slovenes living close to Italy "stormed" across the border to try their luck, the Austria Press Agency reported Thursday.

Many of them packed restaurants and hotels in Italy's German-speaking Alto Adige, or South Tyrol, region, which borders Austria.

French visitors were driving into neighboring northwest Italy for a chance to play the numbers lotto, many Germans have been sighted in resort towns of Lake Maggiore buying tickets, and Superenalotto tickets appeared to be as popular as postcards in many Venice souvenir shops.

Other foreigners catching lotto fever were enjoying already planned vacations in Italy. Nicola and Peter Minchella came from Edinburgh, Scotland.

"I never thought to play in another country before, but since it's making headlines, we'll probably buy a ticket," said Nicola Minchella, as the pair dipped into gelato and sipped coffee at Castellino's, an outside cafe at Piazza Venezia in the heart of Rome.

At a counter inside the cafe, customers waited in line to buy lotto tickets. What if Peter Minchella picked the winning numbers?

"I'd travel the world and keep buying lottery tickets," he said, smiling.

The cost is 1 euro ($1.42) for the chance to choose two combinations of six winning numbers.

Dreaming of riches
In places like Naples, where a favorite pastime is interpreting dreams in terms of numbers, many people preferred to choose their own. But players could also purchase tickets with two random sets of numbers already printed on them.

With many smoke shops closed in Italy for vacations, those open bustled with players. At Castellino, one customer spent $2,800, a drop in the bucket against the 1 in 622 million odds, said manager Stefano Menchetti.

Not all had dreams of riches only for themselves.

The mayor and some of his employees in one small town in northeast Italy chipped in to buy tickets, pledging to use any winnings to build a theater for Ceneselli's 1,900 citizens.

"We've played our ages, our birth dates" as the lucky numbers, said Mayor Marco Trombini in a telephone interview. "There's no logic in luck anyway."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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