Culture

A Short History of the Lotto

Even Jose Rizal wasn't immune from its hold on our dreams.
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Nary a conversation goes by these days without someone mentioning the Lotto, and with good reason: the UltraLotto 6/58 jackpot is slated to hit P1 billion, surpassing its previous record of P741 million.

While a quick Google search on “Philippine ultra lotto” or “Philippine lottery” will lead you to a lot of (mostly bogus) websites on how to win the lotto and what your lucky numbers are depending on your time of birth, very little has been shared about the history of the lotto.

Lotteries have been in the Philippines since the time of the Spanish. Professor Alice B. Acejas, author of “The Role of Colonialism, Gambling, Religion, and Resistance in Shaping the Philippine Third Sector,” notes the Loteria Nacional was established by Royal decree in 1850 The Spanish government “partnered with private enterpirses called Empresa de Reales Loteria Espanolas de Filipinas” to hold these monthly lotteries, the revenue of which was used as a “lucrative source of revenue” for the empire.

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Betting had—and continues to have—a stronghold in Filipino culture. Even Jose Rizal took part in it, winning the lottery in 1892 while he was exiled to Dapitan.

According to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office website, the lotto came to a halt during the Philippine Revolution and was restarted in 1932 by the Philippine government. The proceeds of this lottery game were given to the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, and the draw proved so successful that the government decided to use the lotto as a “a new venture of raising funds for the promotion of public health and general welfare”.

Never mind, however, that a boost in ticket sales could result to funding for charities in need. Despite its altruistic bent, the lotto’s deep roots in charitable work trail far behind the promise of fame and financial stability that come with winning the jackpot.

The P741 million jackpot was won by an overseas worker in New York in November 2010, winning him his 15 seconds of fame alongside his newly found riches. In an interview on dzBB radio, PCSO Chairman Margarita Juico listed a couple of alternatives to collecting the winnings in person, such as through check deposits and asking a lawyer to represent him. Smart move, considering such huge sums of money provide instant incentive for robbers. 

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As for the P1 billion jackpot, the odds of actually winning it are 1 in 40,475,348. A Reddit user has done the math and figures that you can bet on all possible combinations if you’ve got around P971 million to spare—and if you win, at least you still have about P29 million in net winnings. It’s not P741 million, but at least it’s something.

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About The Author
Gaby Flores
Gaby Flores is a contributing writer for Esquire. She likes postcolonial literature and spicy food.
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