Weekly draws are done online every Saturday
Weekly draws are done online every Saturday Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Emirates Loto – the UAE’s first fatwa-approved loto – crowned its first winner with Dh350,000 this week and heads into a jackpot of Dh40 million this Saturday. But what makes it compliant with Sharia law?

Gulf News spoke to Emirates Loto CEO Paul Sebestyen, who explained, “Emirates Loto is not a lottery, we are basically a collectables scheme. Within that sale of collectables people have the option to participate in a mega draw once a week.”

How it works

For Dh35 you can buy a card with an iconic image of the UAE on it, and a new set of eight cards are printed every quarter making them in effect limited edition.

Collectables on offer
Collectbables on offer Image Credit: Supplied

When you buy a card you have the option to enter a draw, where picking six balls from 49 and having six called out will land you the jackpot. Five out of six makes you a second tier winner able to win up to a Dh1 million, four out of six gets you Dh300, and three out of six earns you free entry into next week’s draw.

This week there was no jackpot winner, but one second tier winner who won Dh350,000. Forty two people got four out of six and 1,200 got three out of six.

If no-one wins the jackpot it rolls into next week and the potential winnings increase. Last week the jackpot was Dh35 million and this week it is Dh40 million.

The draw – every Saturday - is audited, taped and monitored as per international best practice with a government representative on hand. There are even three machines and three sets of balls to be randomly selected to ensure everything is above board.

Interest was so high last week that 250,000 people visited the website in five minutes, making it crash.

Three machines and three sets of balls are randomly selected before each draw
Three machines and three sets of balls are randomly selected before each draw Image Credit: Supplied

Just like a supermarket raffle

Paul Sebestyen

“It’s like when you buy certain products at your local supermarket and they enter you into a draw,” Sebestyen explained. “The only difference is we have a weekly live draw and we are totally digital. You can purchase your collectable from in one of 19,000 locations around the UAE or online and choose to have it delivered and donate the cost of its price to charity. You can purchase it to enter the draw or just to collect.

“We have a fatwa out of Abu Dhabi and as a business we adhere to Sharia principles. The idea of selling collectables with the option for purchases to enter you into a mega draw is what makes it Sharia principled and fatwa-approved,” added Sebestyen, who said people could buy as many collectables as they wanted per week, before adding that online purchases were monitored “because we want to be socially responsible.”

Echoes of England

Like the National Lottery in the UK, which has for decades funded forgotten arts and sports related fields in Britain with grants, and is largely attributed for helping the country obtain so many medals at the 2012 Olympics, Sebestyen said Emirates Loto would also have a positive effect on the community.

“Unlike your local supermarket draw, we are in the business of changing lives for people in communities in need,” said Sebestyen. “We provide funding for government CSR initiatives and as a private business our major focus is on providing funding for charities and organisations.

“I think, especially now, if you look at the way the world has changed with the economy and the drop in oil prices with all things going on related to coronavirus, such funding for charities and organisations for meals and training is really needed and we are hoping to contribute millions to these charities.”

Where has the money come from to start this?

“We are a private business organisation and although we have government licence we are not a government entity,” replied Sebestyen, who brings with him 35-years experience in the field from his native US.

And could this open the door to other markets that have previously been closed to the concept of lotos, like for instance Saudi Arabia?

“For us right now we are primarily concentrated here in the UAE and this is where we want to concentrate our efforts and create funds for the local environment, but naturally as we are digital, people can log on from anywhere in the world.”