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Irish Sweepstakes Loses Race, Closes

February 27, 1987

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ The 56-year-old Irish Sweepstakes succumbed Friday to the proliferation of state-run lotteries at home and abroad.

″It’s a very traumatic thing. The ‘sweep’ was looked upon as an institution that would never die,″ said a spokesman for the privately owned Hospitals Trust, which set up the big-money competition in 1931.

The Hospitals Sweepstakes, its formal title, once had the international cash contest field nearly cornered. It began to feel the heat of competition in the 1970s when state-operated lotteries sprang up in other countries, notably the United States and Australia. Americans had always been a mainstay of the sweepstakes.

The final straw came when the Irish government authorized a new state-run lottery that beginning next month will offer prizes ranging from $15 to $400,000. Its proceeds will be used to finance projects in health, sports, the arts and the Irish language.

The Irish Sweepstakes paid out $412 million in prize money and contributed $201 million toward hospital construction and medical programs.

″Most of the money was raised in the 1930s and 1940s when millions meant millions, and it built hospitals all over the country,″ said the spokesman, who commented on condition of anonymity.

Its biggest single payout was its first, 354,724 pounds to Londoner Emilio Scala in 1931. The pound was worth about $4.50 in the 1930s.

After that, the prize money was split into multiple prizes, and recent first awards have ranged from $150,000 to $225,000.

The sweepstakes, a private company operating with government approval, has lost money since the mid-1970s, the spokesman said. Its Dublin headquarters put up its shutters after deciding it could not compete with the state-run game. Each sweepstakes drawing centered on a horse race. Winners were identified when uniformed nurses plucked tickets from a huge drum in the sweeps’ offices in the Ballsbridge suburb of Dublin.

The headquarters and its 11 acres of grounds are expected to be sold for about $15 million. About 150 people will lose their jobs.

The union that represents the sweep’s employees urged the government to ″acknowledge its moral obligation″ and compensate the workers ″to allow (them) to retire in dignity.″

Aileen Saul, a 57-year-old cashier, said she had been offered $5,100 in severance pay after 41 years with the sweep.

″At our last meeting, we determined to be brave and just take the redundancy money (lump sum paid to those laid off) on offer,″ she said. ″But I don’t know what you do at 57 years of age.″

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