Bettors queued up at gambling outlets run by Magnum and Berjaya Sports Toto Bhd. to buy such numbers after the flight crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17. That resulted in certain combinations being sold out, Magnum said in an e-mailed statement in response to questions.
Punters in Malaysia and Singapore usually place four-digit bets in lotteries known as Toto and 4D, and it's not uncommon for people to use registration numbers of vehicles involved in accidents. Prize winnings can be as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how much was put down for the bet.
"There are so many number 7s in this crash and I wanted to try my luck," Lee Meng Yew, a 45-year-old mechanic, said as he left a Berjaya Sports Toto gambling outlet in Kuala Lumpur. "The number combinations for 777 and 17 are not available."
Flight 17 has attracted attention among Malaysian punters because of the prevalence of the number 7. The Boeing 777 jet was manufactured in July 1997 and had 17 years of service before it crashed July 17 en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, according to data provided by Malaysian Air.
Armed rebels hovering over the investigation are making the reclamation of wreckage and corpses more difficult. Governments around the world are clamouring to be given greater access to bring the remains home and ease the anguish for families amid reports of looting of victims' possessions.
Berjaya Sports Toto didn't immediately respond to e-mail and phone requests for comment. Magnum said its customers also buy numbers related to events such as weddings of celebrities, deaths of famous personalities and natural disasters.
"Whenever there is a major event that gets publicized in the press, some customers will try to buy numbers related to the event," it said.
Berjaya Sports Toto conducts draws every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday for its number-forecast games, according to its website. On Saturday, the number 4176 won the top prize.