National Lottery Counters Gov't Attempt to Narrow Punters' Odds

Mifal Hapayis (the national lottery) petitioned the High Court of Justice yesterday against the Finance Ministry's order that it discontinue a new system of drawing winners that reduces the chance of anyone winning the jackpot.

The organization said it cannot return to the old system without at least half a year's advance notice, as it must alter its software, prepare new forms and advertise the change. Therefore, it said, the treasury's order will prevent lotteries from being held, which in turn will cost the state and local governments more than NIS 500 million.

Mifal Hapayis changed its system in February. Under the old system, the drawing consisted of six numbers between 1 and 34 and a seventh between 1 and 10. The new system consists of six numbers between 1 and 37 and a seventh between 1 and 8. This significantly reduces the chances of anyone guessing all seven correctly.

The lottery says it compensated for the reduced chance of winning by raising the minimum first prize from NIS 4 million to NIS 5 million and allowing the second prize to accumulate from drawing to drawing if no one wins it, such that it often reaches NIS 1 million. Thus in the 67 drawings it has held since introducing the new system, it said, 33 people have won NIS 1 million or more, up from 14 in the previous 67 drawings.

Moreover, it said, it informed the treasury of the planned change on November 30, 2008, and the treasury never responded. Since by law it is allowed to change its system 30 days after notifying the treasury unless the latter objects, the change was perfectly legal. In fact, it said, the treasury even subsequently renewed its lottery license without a word of complaint about the planned new system.

In March 2009, however, the treasury demanded that it discontinue the new system. Subsequent negotiations have failed to resolve the dispute, and the treasury recently sent a letter demanding that the old system be reinstated by October 15 - something Mifal Hapayis said will cause it enormous losses.

The treasury said in response that Mifal Hapayis never received a permit for the new system.