At least twice a week, all across Dallas, co-workers discuss the latest winner of the Texas lottery jackpot. Sharing strategies and fantasies has become a leading topic at coffee breaks everywhere.
But what happens when your officemate wins? When they first heard that John Martinez, a nurse at St. Paul Medical Center, won half of the $14.2 million pot on April 2, some of his co-workers thought (and hoped) he was pulling a belated April Fool’s joke.
“We were all incredulous. I think we were really in shock,” recalls Mary Lou Bernhagen, quality improvement coordinator at St. Paul. When Martinez appeared on the TV news at noon, says Bernhagen, those who knew him best were watching from an empty room in me coronary care unit.
“As soon as he came on, we all cheered for him and yelled down the halls that he really had won. Then we sat around in my office and fantasized about what we would do with all that money.
“Frankly,” adds Bernhagen, “it made me almost sick to my stomach. It was just too close to home.”
One reason for the friendly jealousy was that a few days before he won, Martinez shared his now-famous ping-pong-balls-in-a-can strategy with Bernhagen and other staffers. One co-worker even teased him about needing to call the 1-800 number (for help with gambling problems) on the back of the lottery ticket. “As it turned out, the joke’s on us, but we are happy for him,” says fellow staffer Shan Tucker.
And what of those strategies now? Some of the hospital’s Lotto players are giving up the game, convinced that chances are slim that another winner could come out of St. Paul in their lifetime. Others, however, are playing more than ever. Bernhagen tried to simulate John Martinez’s trick by wadding up 50 numbered pieces of paper and drawing from them. But no luck.. .yet.