Who Gets the Prize?

Question

Mordechai asked Daniel to buy a lottery ticket on his behalf. He also gave him money
with which to make the purchase. Daniel bought the ticket, but paid for it with his own
money. He also chose the numbers to be entered into the draw. He put the ticket into
his pocket and went home. The next morning, Daniel heard that the ticket he had bought had
won first prize – a million dollars! Daniel claims the prize is his. He admits that
at the time of purchase he had in mind to buy the ticket for Mordechai, but that (a) he
paid for it with his own money and (b) he changed his mind and decided to keep the ticket
for himself before the drawing took place, whether it won or not. He added that, even if
it was decided that Mordechai was entitled to the prize money, in any case, he was
entitled to at least half the sum since he chose the winning numbers. Is there any basis
for these claims?


Answer

The Shulchan Oruch brings a case in Choshen Mishpot (183:4), where Reuven
asked Shimon to buy a certain item on his behalf. Shimon bought it without telling the
seller on whose behalf he was making the purchase. The law is that the moment he performs
a kinyan (an act of acquisition) on the item, it becomes Reuven’s property,
even though it is still in Shimon’s hand. Shimon would not be believed if he later
claimed that he changed his mind after making the kinyan and decided to take it for
himself, even if he actually paid for the item with his own money. The Sema (No. 9)
explains that this law is based on the ruling of the Remah (quoted by the Tur).
He states that our basic assumption is that an agent loyally performs the task he was sent
to carry out. Even if he makes the actual purchase with his own money, we assume he is
loaning this sum to the person who sent him. However, if Shimon, the agent, decides to
make the kinyan on his own behalf and pays for it with his own money, he
becomes the rightful owner of the item.

The Nesivos (No. 5) explains that when the buyer gives money to the seller, a
Torah–binding transaction is made. However, the Rabbis gave the parties a chance to
retract from the deal until such time as the kinyan has been made (generally in
exchange for a curse for not keeping one’s word – mi she’ porah!)
Here, the kinyan was made by Shimon on his own behalf, with his own money. The vendor is
assumed to be doing business with the owner of the money, which in this case is Shimon.
Even though the money was originally given on behalf of Reuven, we say that the seller has
changed his mind and made a deal with Shimon instead. (the Taz has a different
understanding. According to his opinion, when the buyer gave money to the seller, no
transaction whatsoever had yet taken place. The Rabbis instituted that only making a kinyan
can conclude a deal. Thus, only if the purchase was made (a) with Reuven’s money and
(b) specifically in Reuven’s name is there no opportunity for Shimon to change his
mind.)

AS TO OUR ORIGINAL QUESTION, it would appear from the above that all the prize money
belong to Mordechai. Daniel admits that he bought the lottery ticket on his behalf. Even
though he used his own money to make the purchase, we assume that he was just giving
Mordechai a loan, as the Remah explains. Had Daniel made the kinyan on his own
behalf, the fact that he paid with his own money would have secured him the ticket –
and the prize! Daniel’s claim that his choosing the winning numbers contributed to
gaining the prize is also not acceptable. Winning a lottery is a matter of mazal
(luck) and not a matter of skill! (Had Daniel contributed either skill or connections he
would be entitled to half the profit even if he had paid with his employer’s money
– see "Who gets the gift?" – in this series.) The owner of the winning
ticket’s mazal gained him the prize. As mentioned above, in this case
Mordechai is the owner and not Daniel.