La Charada
3:55 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

How A Book And A Brain Help Win Lotteries In Little Havana

A charada book gives lottery players guidance in the form of numbers represented by everyday figures.
Credit Enrique Torres / WLRN

In Hialeah’s Power Food Supermarket, a lottery cashier named Isabel takes a pause between customers.

In nine years working at the store, she has seen many hopeful people play the different Florida lottery games. The 1 in 10,000 chances of winning big with a Play 4 ticket might seem disheartening, but Isabel knows about a Cuban lottery superstition that ignores the statistics.

“I used to live in the apartments on 49th Street and a white dove stood by my window all night,” she recalls. “Because I knew about the dove, I played 0024 on Play 4 that day and I won $10,000.”

1. The Book
La charada (also known as la charada china) is a book of numbers from 1-100. Each number is paired up with an everyday thing, such as a cat (4), dove (27), police (50) or cemetery (68). Most of the numbers represent multiple things (for example, an angel and a bed are both under number 57).

According to retired Miami-Dade social sciences professor Mercedes Sandoval, la charada arrived in Cuba in the 1800s. During that time, the Chinese were brought to the island because the trade of Africans had become too expensive. Cubans were then influenced by the Chinese version of the charada and adapted it for themselves, creating the version that is found in South Florida bodegas to this day.

2. The Brain
Owning the book is only a part of the equation — there needs to be a method for choosing the right set of numbers to hit the jackpot. After all, there are 100 numbers in the book, but lottery players can only choose a maximum of six numbers for the Florida Lotto.

Many players like to play by matching numbers to things they have encountered during the day. For example, if they see a dead bird by the road on their way to get a cafecito, then they might mark the number 47 on the lottery ticket. If they are handed a rose, they can play 54 on Play 3 or Cash 4 (the Florida Lotto only allows players to choose numbers between 1 and 53). It’s all about using the brain to pick out important things from everyday life.

Still, not all players use this technique to win. Some prefer to literally follow their dreams.

Raul Amaro states that he has been playing the lottery since he was 14. He has won thousands of dollars since he started in Havana, simply by dreaming: “I've won more money using predictions from my dreams than statistics.”

There was one time he doubted the validity of la charada, though. “A long time ago, I dreamt of a small boy who’d tell me the winning numbers. He told me to play 28, 30 and 08 in a combination. Since the number 2830 had come out a few days earlier, I ignored it. Three days later, 3008 came out.”

Nonetheless, he feels it is important for players to know how to use the book wisely. “If you play every day, you lose every day.”