Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

$190-million jackpot has Oz all giddy

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BRISBANE -- One hundred millions dollars is up for grabs in Australia on Tuesday as this gambling nation enters a new phase of its lottery obsession -- the nine-figure payout.

For years Australians have gazed on gape-mouthed as the Americans and the Spanish proffered $500-million lottery wins while Aussie dreams were kept modestly confined to the $1-million realm.

But next week, Australians, many of whom see gambling as something like a patriotic duty, will enter an unprecedented, state-sanctioned, gambling frenzy.

Not only is its Australia's most famous horse race, the Melbourne Cup, which last year attracted $150 million of bets in state-run agencies alone -- or a $7.50 punt for every man woman and child.

It's also the date for the weekly Oz Lotto draw which has reach the magical figure of $100 million.

That's not quite yet in the realm of Spain's Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad, which apparently nudged the billion-dollar mark last year in its first division payout.

And, in truth, it was actually exceeded a few years ago when the then unthinkable figure of $90 million was reached and a late surge of betting pushed the first division payout (shared by two winners) to just over $100 million.

But the certainty of nine figures in the first division next week has sent the nation into mild hysteria, with nearly double the prize (about $190 million) already spent on Oz Lotto tickets since the game began carrying-over more than two months ago.

Last Tuesday, when the jackpot reached $70 million, it was estimated one third of the nation had bought a stake in the statistical improbability of picking the correct seven numbers out of 45.

The Melbourne Cup transfixes Australia and rates as an unofficial holiday. But most limit their bets to somewhere between $5 and $20 on a favoured few gallopers in the endearing hope of doubling or perhaps tripling their money.

It's the lotto, not the Cup, which inspires the toxic dreams of massive wealth and the possibility of leaving the drudgery of paid employment far behind.

Sombre mathematicians regularly point out in media appearances that one could have been playing Oz Lotto every week since Cleopatra's birth and still have little chance of winning first prize.

But the experts are swiftly dismissed by Australians, much as they are by Canadians, who still gaze longingly at that 6/49 ticket they pick up with the weekly shopping.

Australia is widely recognized as having a collective gambling problem. But despite much huffing and puffing, little is done to combat the illness that enslaves thousands of citizens.

Governments, too, are addicted to the massive revenues flowing from state-run gambling houses not only milking the pockets of horse racing punters but cleaning up with the weekly lotto draws, including Oz Lotto.

And when, for as little as $2, you can dream of a life changing fortune to sweep away all your financial worries, it's difficult to be too hard on the pensioners and the unemployed who line up every week with their pitiful handful of spare change, and their poignant hopes.

The lotto dreams of an ordinary Aussie, known locally as a battler, veer towards buying a house or paying off the debt on the present one, taking a luxury cruise, maybe buying a new car and handing out wads of cash to family members -- and even a few charities.

The dreams of the already wealthy (and, yes, a surprising number of them still buy lotto tickets) tend towards establishing a trust for the children and perhaps reinforcing their financial position to better create some sort of dynasty to last generations.

But for millions of Australians, even many among the executive class, there's one shared lotto-inspired scenario which crosses many boundaries and has informed millions of hysterical water-cooler discussions.

The theatrical resignation from paid employment is the No. 1 fantasy of most adult Australians, crossing class and gender lines, eclipsing even the more fervent imaginings inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey.

The more creative among us who know how to accessorize a fantasy can embellish it right down to the wardrobe -- a personal acquaintance favours a crimson-red smoking jacket offset by a small, hand-rolled cheroot held betwixt thumb and forefinger.

Impeccably attired, he walks into the boss's office, takes a seat uninvited and swings both feet onto his superior's desk.

And there, while blowing elaborate smoke rings in the air in blatant contravention of work place health and safely regulations, he quietly offers advice on how the executive arm of his organization might like to take his paid position, and shove it into the further reaches of its lower colon.

Gambling -- a serious social illness, but the inspiration for our most cherished dreams.

 

Michael Madigan is the Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 A14

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