08 December 2015

Surprising Facts About the Lottery in Australia

History of the Australian Lotteries

Australians have always enjoyed a lasting love affair with the lottery but playing the game is only part of the story. Surprisingly many Aussies don't actually realise how much this great game has not just helped countless people get rich – it has also played an integral part in the building of our young nation.

History of the Australian Lotteries

The first lotteries in Australia were illegal sweepstakes that would jump from one state to the next, as the authorities closed in. It didn't take long for state governments to see the potential in these games, however, especially when faced with economic crises.

The first such crisis struck Tasmania, with the collapse of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land in the 1890s. To alleviate the burden the first government-approved lottery, the Grand Lottery, was set up with prizes which included both cash and property. Its inaugural win also resulted in Australia's first ever case of lotto litigiousness as the winner was sued by his friend in a dispute over who bought the ticket.

Later, in the wake of the Great Depression, other states began to follow suit. 1931 saw the launch of the New South Wales State Lottery designed to help alleviate the state's financial burden and help fund medical facilities.

Therefore lotteries helped Australia get through tough times and allowed her to endure the Depression and build her strength during the inter-war years so she was better prepared for the challenges to come. 


Building Sydney Harbour

Without a doubt Australia's most globally recognised landmarks are the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Instantly recognizable, these incredible feats of architecture and cutting-edge engineering fast became Australian icons. They also helped prove to whoever doubted us that our "Land Down Under" was finally coming up in the world – an emerging nation of culture and ingenuity capable of astounding feats. 

What's forgotten, however, is that both of these great works were originally funded by lotteries. First, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which took nine years to finish and was finally completed in 1932.

Next came Australia's most well-known building, the Sydney Opera House. Originally designed by Jørn Utzon, an architect from Denmark, the building of the Sydney Opera House commenced at the beginning of March 1959. Once again this building was commissioned in order to make a strong statement that would resonate throughout the world – it was, in essence, to be much more than just a concert venue, but rather our own Statue Of Liberty.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with such monumental undertakings, the project was fraught with communication problems, logistical and budgetary issues, design changes, micromanaging and political machinations which not only caused huge delays but ultimately forced Utzon to resign from the project.

With funding in difficulty, and the whole world watching, a clever solution was devised to get the project back on track – it would be funded by a lottery.

In total, after 496 lotteries, $102 million – pretty much the entire cost of the project – was raised and the Sydney Opera House was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.

As for Utzon, he would eventually return to the Opera House in the late 90s to aid in its refurbishment and act as a design consultant allowing him to realise his original vision before his death in 2008.  


The Lotto Goes Live

Following the popularity of State Lotteries the next step was to beam the draws directly into people's homes – which is precisely what began happening in the 1970s. In New South Wales the first televised Lotto draw was held in 1979.

The draw made use of a specially designed draw machine manufactured by a West German company called Hans Brosch Electrotechnick. The idea was not only to help automate the draw, the machine was also purposely designed to add to the spectacle of the draw itself.

It sat atop a steel base where the balls were then propelled into a large, transparent sphere of Perspex. The machine itself was also cured with a special anti-static compound to ensure that the table tennis balls inside didn't stick together while the machine was in operation.

The success of televised games led to the growth of modern lotteries in Australia as well as the introduction of scratch card games in the early 80s. This, in turn, led to the consolidation of state lotteries into bespoke national lotteries and the launch of even more new games in the 90s.


Aussie Syndicate Sinks American Lottery

Meanwhile back in 1992, while all this was still in the pipeline, a syndicate of Australian players managed to game the system for a 6/44 lotto in Virginia in the US. They had managed to figure out all the possible combinations required to win and therefore started bulk-buying the cheap $1 USD tickets. Having bought up 5 million tickets in total they hit the $27 million USD jackpot netting them a fat profit of $23 million USD.

Lottery officials in Virginia – the home state of the CIA – were outraged to discover they had been outsmarted by the ingenious Aussies and at one point even considered outlawing bulk ticket sales but the law was never passed.

Unlike here in Australia, however, they had to pay tax – so Uncle Sam still got his cut of the winnings.


Record Breaking Lotteries Launched

The Oz Lotto was launched on 26 February 1994 as Australia's first true national lottery game and, since its launch, has given Australia its biggest ever jackpot wins. The largest Oz Lotto jackpot so far was worth just under $112 million.

Two years later, on 23 May 1996, the Australian Powerball lotto was launched. Based loosely on the successful American PowerBall lottery, the game offered more prize divisions than any other major Australian lottery plus a lower chance of shared jackpots. Though eventually eclipsed by the Oz Lotto, the game set many Australian jackpot records and still holds the record for the largest single-winner jackpot ever claimed in Australia – at $40 million. The largest Australian Powerball jackpot to date, meanwhile, was worth $80 million.


The Future of Australian Lotteries

If the history of Australian lotteries has taught us anything it's that there is a greater tendency to create true national lotteries with ever-bigger jackpots and prize divisions – and we expect this trend to continue in future.

New lotteries are already in the planning stages and set to launch soon. We will, of course, offer you the chance to bet on them too, as they become available – along with full details on rules, prizes, how to play and tips on how to win! And in the meantime: check this week's Australian jackpots!