In January 2002 a £16.6 million ($23.7 million) jackpot in the National Lottery in the UK was won by a certain Ken Jackson. But the 77 year-old Brit was not the major beneficiary of the windfall.
Jackson was an agent working for the commercial syndicate Overseas Subscribers Agents (OSA), which helps gamblers around the world to play foreign lotteries.
The real winner, according to the Manila-based OSA, was a 61 year-old Swiss businessman.
OSA may increasingly be looking to switch its focus to new clients in China. Earlier this month Powerball mania grabbed headlines in the United States, thanks to a $1.5 billion rollover jackpot. That got the attention of China’s punters.
US-based sellers on Alibaba were soon hawking Powerball tickets to Chinese buyers. Demand was brisk. The lottery tickets are officially priced at $2 apiece but NBC News has reported that one dealer managed to sell “a few thousand” tickets for as much as Rmb30 ($4.60) each.
Many Chinese posted photos of their Powerball tickets online, prompting a knock-on effect reminiscent of the ice bucket challenge (see WIC250) and encouraging others to buy in turn (and flaunt their tickets on social media too).
State media was less impressed by the trend. “The Powerball’s highest jackpot is 12 times that of the Dual-coloured Ball [China’s own lottery]. But the probability of winning the top prize [on China’s lottery] is also 16.5 times higher,” Xinhua warned the wannabe billionaires, adding that playing foreign lotteries such as Powerball may even be illegal under Chinese law.
But it seems that many locals think their own lottery, the Dual-coloured Ball, is too boring.
“If you spend just Rmb2, the highest possible reward is about Rmb5 million,” China Daily reports. “You have to spend around Rmb300 to Rmb400 if you want to win the highest prize of Rmb2.2 billion [the jackpot as of last month].”
China Daily also notes that public scepticism over the domestic lottery has been growing, and suspicions of rigged outcomes may be a factor in the increasing interest in overseas versions such as Powerball.
But, oddly enough, it wasn’t just Powerball getting headlines last week. The newspapers were also keeping an eye on announcements relating to China’s biggest unclaimed prize. A winning ticket was purchased in November but it was reported the buyer hadn’t collected the $39 million loot by the deadline.
While this prompted the usual round of conspiracy theories (mostly relating to how the funds must have been embezzled by corrupt officials), no-shows from winners are not unique to China.
Over the past month the British newspapers have been speculating about an unclaimed £33 million jackpot of their own. However, after one woman claimed that the winning ticket was destroyed in her washing machine, the lottery operator Camelot announced that it had received a legitimate claim for the prize and paid out to a winner who wished to remain anonymous.
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