06 June 2016

Sweeps, Streaks And Troublesome Tweaks

Irish Lottery History

Ireland has a long and fascinating history with lottery games, from before the days of the Irish Sweepstakes right up to modern times. There were scandals and triumphs, a record-breaking gameshow, a hilarious movie with David Kelly and, of course, there was that time an accountant outsmarted the National Lottery, beat the Lotto system and won millions. 

Irish Lottery History

Ireland has enjoyed lottery games, of some form or another, for centuries, though such games didn’t really come to prominence until shortly after the birth of the Irish Free state, and the advance of the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes.

Swept Away

In the 1930s our fledgling nation was in crisis. Still very much bruised and raw following the civil war, and squeezed even further by the Great Depression, funding was often hard to come by. And hospitals were no exception.

The Irish Hospital Sweepstakes (known more commonly as "The Sweeps") was a lottery established to help fund the building of hospitals while also making people rich – mostly the organisers.  

Tickets for the Sweeps were sold worldwide, though not necessarily with permission. The Americans were particularly irked by the Irish Sweepstakes, but the game had proven so popular there there was little they could do to stop black market tickets from being sold on US soil.

The game became a magnet for scandals which eventually led to the game’s demise and the decision to replace it with a new, government regulated National Lottery. 

An Crannchur Naisiunta

The year is 1987; the year which also saw the release of U2’s The Joshua Tree, Stephen Roche winning the Tour the France and Johnny Logal winning EuroVision (again!). The Irish National lottery launched that March with basic scratchcard games like Match 3 and Windfall. The games were very basic and the prizes were small, especially by today's standards, but they proved incredibly popular with consumers and helped lay the foundations for what was to come next...

Birth Of The Irish Lotto

Fast forward one year and the world is already looking very different. Communism is gradually collapsing in the East and the kids are raving in fields in the West. Course in those days you had to go out into a field just get away from Rick Astley, Bros and the Hothouse Flowers.

Meanwhile the Republic of Ireland squad qualify for the European Cup for the first time thanks to Jack “The Lad” Charlton. 

When the first Irish Lotto draw took place on April 16th it proved an instant hit, becoming immensely popular on both sides of the border. 

With ropey sets and a draw drum that was made of perspex and bits of golf clubs, early broadcasts didn’t exactly make for gripping viewing. They were presided over by showband drummer-turned-TV-presenter Ronan Collins, and of course that independent observer guy who'd always just nod once at the camera. What was needed, it was decided, was a show with a little bit more razzle dazzle...

The Longest-Running Winning Streak In History

Launched in 1990, Winning Streak would go on to become one of the longest-running gameshows in Europe. The show first aired with veteran broadcaster Mike Murphy at the helm, though Marty Whelan remains the show’s most popular presenter. (Especially when compared with Nicky Byrne and the ill-fated Million Euro Challenge.)

The Man Who "Hacked" The Irish Lottery

The Irish Lotto started out as a 6/36 game drawn each Saturday night. The midweek Wednesday draw was added in 1990.

Then, in 1992, the lottery fell victim of a "hack" attack, of sorts when Dubliner, Stefan Klincewicz, a Polish-Irish accountant with an obvious knack for numbers, figured out a way to crack the system.

Klincewicz had worked out exactly how many tickets he would need to buy, in order to hit the jackpot and was waiting for the jackpot to reach grow large enough size whereby he could buy all the necessary tickets and still turn a profit after hitting the jackpot – turns out he'd been sitting on this plan for years.  

His syndicate started bulk buying tickets in huge amounts and won – each getting a tidy piece of the action.

Irish Lotto – The Movie

1998 saw the release of the movie Waking Ned staring the late David Kelly. It told the story of fictional Lotto winner, Ned Devine, who, on realising he's won, gets a heartattack and dies. The village as a whole decide they should claim the prize anyway, "in his honour" and go to hilarious extremes trying to maintain the fraudulent notion that Ned is still alive. This movie was a hoot when it came out and still holds up today. Check it out if you haven't seen it before or, if you have, it's probably been long enough that you can watch again afresh. 

Record Jackpots

Dolores McNamara remains Ireland’s largest lottery winner, having won a EuroMillions jackpot of €115.4 million back in 2005.

The largest Lotto jackpot, meanwhile, is the €18.9 million jackpot won by a syndicate from County Carlow. Question is though, how long will this record remain intact?


After the famous syndicate “hack” of ’92 the lottery format was changed to a 6/39 game, the first of many revamps.

The most recent of these occurred in September 2015, when the numbers were increased from 45 to 47 and the price was increased by the lottery’s new private owners.

These changes haven’t proven popular, nor have the machine glitches and outages which preceded them, though the silver lining is that, as with similar changes to other lotteries (like the UK Lotto and PowerBall) the potential for larger jackpots has increased considerably. 

Time To Make History

Make history yourself this Wednesday night by winning the €4 million Irish Lotto jackpot!