Soccer lottery BIG in Japan

February 25th, 2010 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

BIG Lotto

Step right up!

Sports tabloids are all gaga over the latest offering of the soccer lottery known as BIG. Thanks to a record carryover of ¥2.5 billion from last year’s BIG lotteries, top prizes for the next round will be ¥600 million, which, if history is any indication, should result on a huge rush on BIG lottery tickets. In the annals of the game there has been a total of 118 first prize winners, 80 of which won ¥600 million each. In 2007, the first time such a huge jackpot was offered, the system broke down because demand was too high.

It’s also a huge turnaround for the somewhat euphemistically named National Agency for Advancement of Sports and Health, which runs the various soccer-related lotteries under the “toto” banner. When it was launched back in 2001, toto was closer to a betting game than a lottery. Players choose which J.League teams will win in certain sets of games, and a player wins the jackpot (¥200 million maxiumum) if he or she chooses correctly on all the games listed. For whatever reason the system never really took off and lost money in the beginning.

In 2006 the agency started BIG, which removed all the brain work: a computer “guesses” the winners at random. This totally serendipitous version of toto became extremely popular, probably because the odds of actually winning a top prize (1 in 4.8 million) were greater than those for winning the standard Takarakuji lottery (1 in 10 million).

And the odds for this round of BIG are even better — 1 in 2.9 million. Tickets, each of which costs ¥300, started going on sale Feb. 18 and will continue until March 6, which is the first day of the new J.League season. Over the years, some commentators have complained about the soccer lotteries, saying that it sets a bad example, especially for children, to raise money for various national sports endeavors (including the Olympics) through gambling. But, in a way, BIG isn’t gambling; or, at least, it isn’t gambling the way toto is. Whether it’s a waste of money probably depends on if you win.

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