Champa Thushara, like many other Sri Lankans, buys a lottery ticket every week for the past 15 years in the hopes of winning big.
Buyers are being sought.
Numerous other Sri Lankans, like him, have a habit of participating in lotteries. Consider how many times you’ve purchased a lottery ticket in the hopes of becoming the next big winner. Every week, millions of Sri Lankans do it, but only a select few reap the benefits. What are the chances of hitting the jackpot if you haven’t yet taken the gamble or don’t participate in this?
The National Lotteries Board (NLB) sold an incredible 5.3 million tickets for that week when the grand prize for Mahajana Sampatha, the most popular of all lotteries, reached over Rs.60 million. It was first drawn on Tuesday and Friday of each week in 1968 and was previously known as the Jathika Sampatha. M.S. Karunaratne, the NLB’s General Manager, proudly informs us that the NLB has won the SLIM award for the most popular brand, so it should come as no surprise that individuals spend an average of Rs.25–30 million per week on tickets in the hopes of winning the super prize of Rs. 10 million or one of the three Rs.1 million prizes.
However, only about 5 million lottery tickets are printed and distributed out of a total of 25 million that could have been printed for the Mahajana Sampatha. The remaining 20 million or so tickets were never printed. This means that the winning ticket could have been one of the 20 million or so tickets that were never printed and, as a result, never circulated.
This raises a critical question that must be addressed. Are people aware that there’s a good chance the winning ticket isn’t in circulation when they buy lottery tickets? Would anyone buy a ticket if they knew their chances of winning on any given week were slim to none? To find out, we polled a diverse group of people to see how well they knew about lotteries. The majority of people who said they rarely bought lottery tickets were the most surprised to learn that the winning ticket might never be printed.
“That’s not very fair,” one man said, surprised and perplexed by the revelation. He went on to say that he doesn’t buy lottery tickets very often, but when he does, he wants to know that he stands a good chance of winning. When it came to regular ticket buyers, the results were mixed. Some were aware, but for others, it was a startling revelation. For the past ten years, a caretaker has been purchasing tickets every week from his hometown of Kotmale and Colombo, where he now works. He has yet to win anything, as is usually the case. He was completely unaware that not all tickets are printed and distributed for sale. He said, however, that he won’t stop buying tickets because he hopes to win big one day. His wife, on the other hand, was not as understanding of the situation. She told her husband after some consideration that it made her sad to consider how much money they could have saved over the years if they hadn’t purchased any tickets.
The Sunday Times FT went behind the scenes to find out what goes into giving you the big bag of gold, in order to answer more of your burning questions.
Are you looking for a winning lottery ticket?
The Treasury Department of the Ministry of Finance is directly responsible for the NLB. A board of directors, chaired by an executive Chairman, meets twice a month. The NLB employs 263 people, including 62 district dealers and around 3000 agents.
The lottery tickets are printed by the State Printing Corporation, and the draw machine is computerized (SPC). The machine generates the combination of ticket numbers at random. The number of tickets printed for each lottery is determined by market demand.
The printing services of private sector printing companies are used by all other lotteries. Private companies, according to Karunaratne, follow the same procedure as the SPC. When securing private printing companies, he explained, there are specifications and conditions laid out in the tender document. “They signed an agreement with us, and if there are any issues like duplicate tickets due to their negligence, they not only have to answer to the NLB, but they also have to bear the costs,” Karunaratne explained. The NLB also conducts weekly inspections of these private printers to ensure that everything is in order.
According to Karunaratne, the process is completely automated, unlike in the past when it was done manually, and there are several security measures in place during the lottery ticket printing process. “We take several precautions to avoid ticket duplication,” Karunaratne insisted, even mentioning that the paper used to print the tickets is unique. He explained that, in the past, NLB employees were forbidden from participating in lotteries due to the manual process involved, but that now that everything is computer automated, they are free to do so as much as they want. In fact, he claims to be a regular lottery player.
Transparency is important.
The NLB is governed by the 1963 Finance Act, which includes rules and regulations that have been published in the Federal Register. “Every draw must have the GM present, and all draws must be witnessed by police officers above the rank of ASP,” Karunaratne said. He also stated that a nominee from the Department of the Auditor General, usually a chartered accountant, must be present. In addition to the GM, another NLB director will be present at the draw, and in some cases, the NLB will invite officers from the relevant ministries to attend as well. “The entire process is being closely monitored,” Karunaratne stated.
The balls used in the draws are inspected every week by the ITI, a government agency that certifies weights and measurements. Furthermore, if the auditors want to check the weights at random, the NLB has no objections to that. The balls are then safely stored in a locked compartment, with one key in the hands of the auditor and the other in the hands of the NLB, to prevent any ball tampering or manipulation.
NLB Administrator Chaminda Abeyratne showed us how each ticket has a unique computerized bar code that is scanned in the database to verify its authenticity (he must have been feeling lucky!). Winning tickets are also sent to the Government Examiner of Questioned Documents (EQD) for verification and analysis. If the super prize is not claimed in a given week, the winnings are accumulated and carried over to the next week. However, keep in mind that prize money is subject to government taxes.
According to the NLB’s ticket sales figures, it appears that many people are hoping to win the grand prize! The Govisetha, which is drawn every Monday, sells between 1.7 and 2 million tickets per week.
The Mahajana Sampatha is drawn every Tuesday and Friday, with an average of 2.5 to 3.0 million tickets sold. The Jayaviru, which was created specifically for the families of soldiers, will be drawn on Wednesday. The lottery sells about 1.3 to 1.4 million tickets per week, with 15 to 20% of the proceeds going to Treasury Department-managed funds. “They look after the families of our fallen heroes and provide them with things like housing,” Karunaratne said. The Vasana Sampatha, which sells 1.5–2.0 million tickets weekly, was created for the Social Services Department and disaster management on Thursday.
It is difficult to deny that this is a staggering amount of money generated each week through ticket sales. So, where does all of this cash go? When a person purchases an average lottery ticket for Rs.10, they are automatically contributing to one of the NLB’s many social service projects. The remainder is divided among a variety of other stakeholders. Fifty percent of the money, or Rs.5, is returned to the board. A ten-cent commission is paid to district dealers, while a Rs.1.50 commission is paid to agents. The Treasury Department receives 15% of the money, leaving the NLB with only 19 cents to cover its costs, as Karunaratne somberly points out. “The district dealers have a good margin because the volume of tickets sold is high,” Karunaratne said.
Although lottery winners can choose to keep their identities hidden, the majority prefer to make their fortune public. “Our main concern is to ensure their safety,” Karunaratne said. So rest assured that if you win and don’t want the rest of the country to know, the NLB will gladly comply with your request. The winner of the Rs.60 million Mahajana Sampatha from Ratnapura has yet to claim his prize, but rest assured that when he does, he will be ecstatic.