Sicilian councillors praying for €116m jackpot

The eye-popping €116m (£99m) up for grabs in Italy's record lottery this week would be enough to change the lives of an entire community. And that's exactly what the mayor of the impoverished Sicilian village of Ficarra had in mind when he ordered that €115 be docked from the wages of each council member to buy extra tickets for the SuperEnalotto.

The lottery numbers for the 2,000-strong community will be chosen for their connection with the town's patron saint, the Virgin Mary of the Assumption. "It is our hope that, with her blessing, we'll hit the jackpot," Mayor Basilio Ridolfo said.

He was quick to make political capital out of the communal gamble. "Our initiative also shows the difficult conditions in which small communities have to operate in the south," he said.

The jackpot has been unclaimed for weeks, as no one has picked the winning six-number combination. It has rolled over again and again, but the village in the hills overlooking Sicily's north coast is hoping its numbers come up in one of this week's three draws.

Sicily has been lucky before. Last October a resident of the island's second city, Catania, won the previous record prize of €100.1m.

If Ficarra's prayers are answered, €60m will be spent on infrastructure and communal facilities, leaving enough for a €20,000 pay out for each villager. And communities elsewhere in Italy are following suit as lottery jackpot fever sweeps the country.

On the mainland, the mayor of Anguillara Sabazia announced a similar initiative, in which the salaries of council members of the governing party will be taxed a more modest €5 a head to buy communal lotto tickets. The minimum bet is €1.

Antonio Pizzigallo, the mayor of the town near Rome, dismissed scepticism that councillors would disappear en masse if Anguillara Sabazia hit the jackpot. "That money would be used entirely for the improving the quality of life of the towns citizens," he said.

The central government would argue that the lottery, which so far this year has raked in more than €1.7bn, has already helped all of Italy's citizens. The state coffers receive 49.5 per cent of all bets made – rather more than other national betting games, which pay the treasuries between 20 and 25 per cent.