Huan Zhang receives her grand prize from Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) organisers. Various DSF raffles have so far awarded more than 80 luxury cars, Dh4.3 million in cash, 39 kilos of gold and several solitaire diamonds Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It’s a great start to the new year for Huan Zhang, a Chinese expatriate pocketing nearly half a million dirhams in a recent mega raffle in Dubai.

The 27-year-old from Chongqing, a port city by the Yangtze River in China,  was recently declared winner of two luxury cars and Dh100,000 in the Dubai Shopping Festival’s Infiniti Mega Raffle.

“I opted for cash, hence I brought home Dh350,000. I just deposited it on Wednesday,” she says.

Zhang, who works as an administrative assistant at a cargo clearance company in Dubai, is a believer in luck. Before she moved to Dubai only eight months ago, she had spent quite a lot of money on raffle tickets, but good fortune was never on her side.

Her jackpot came after spending Dh200 on just one raffle coupon a few weeks earlier at a petrol station. She was inspired by a story of an Indian guy in Dubai who had spent 15 years buying a DSF raffle ticket before hitting it big in the draw.

“I came across this article about the Indian expatriate. So I decided to buy one ticket, just one ticket,” she says.

Later that day, a friend from India convinced her to say a prayer and place the ticket next to the image of a deity overnight, just for luck.

“The next day, I took the ticket back and after two days, I won,” she says. “Maybe that’s the reason I won, maybe not. I don’t know, but I am really grateful.”

“I think all people like to take chances, so they just need to keep their hopes up. Maybe one ticket can change their life like it did mine. Now I can afford to invest in a house,“ she says.

Huan Zhang

Extravagant prizes

Dubai has recently seen a spate of extravagant prizes won by expatriates like Zhang who bet a few hundred dirhams of their earnings on raffle tickets.

During the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary special, dozens of vehicles, millions of cash and kilos of gold are up for grabs.

So far this month alone, as of January 28, more than 100 individuals have been declared winners of at least 80 luxury cars, Dh4.3 million in cash, 39 kilos of gold and several solitaire diamonds from the high-profile Infiniti Mega Raffle, Gold and Jewellery Mega Raffle and Nissan Grand Raffle.  

The actual amount of cheques pocketed away is believed to be more than what’s listed, as a lot of winners have opted to trade their prize for cash.

In the past, for nearly two decades, more than Dh1.7 billion in prizes had been given away, including 33 Rolls-Royces and 734 kilos of gold.

The “Spend and Win” promotion is a regular feature of DSF.  Experts say the prize extravaganza is very instrumental in changing people’s spending behavior and has contributed to the growth in retail sales.

Besides the raffle coupons at petrol pumps and jewellery stores, there are other ways to win DSF prizes. Malls are enticing consumers to fill their shopping carts with at least Dh200 worth of goods to qualify for a mega weekly prize of Dh100,000, or pocket at least Dh1,000 through the “Scratch and Win” promotion.

Colin Beaton, managing director of Limelight Creative Services, a retail consultancy in Dubai, says the promotion has gained tremendous popularity because of its ability to change people’s lives in exchange for only a small amount of “investment”.

“The win is usually large and expensive so it’s very desirable and the cost of entry (the spend) is low, usually a minimum Dh300 purchase,” Beaton says.

Life-changing win

“The lure of a big win is important, in particular, to lower-income families, where winning a new car would be a major event in their lives, and if that chance can be had by spending Dh300, it will change behaviour.”

Trying his luck for the second time, Ajith K. G. from Kerala India who has been working as a goldsmith in Sharjah for more than 20 years, convinced three of his friends to pool together their money, Dh400 in all, and bought two Infiniti Mega Raffle tickets. A few days later, they won two luxury Infiniti models, QX 60 and Q50, plus Dh100,000 in cash.

“The first time I tried, in 2003, I was not lucky. At that time, I bet on one ticket, the price of which was shared among 10 people,” Ajith says.

Like Zhang, Ajith opted for a cash prize and went home with Dh87,500. “Each of us got Dh87,500,”he said.

For someone earning Dh4,000 a month and raising two children, the prize money is such a welcome relief. “I can use that money to buy a piece of property in India later, but first I will deposit that money in a high-interest savings account in India,” he says.

The problem faced by some raffle winners, however, is not knowing what to do with a sudden windfall.

Sad stories of raffle winners who quickly lost their wealth are a dime dozen. Many people who have won huge amounts of cash have changed their lifestyle, resorted to impulse buying and dealt with hoards of friends and loved ones asking for money.

“Successfully managing money is tough for most people. It is more challenging and complex than recipients anticipate,” says Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner who authored a book, “Sudden Money: Managing a Financial Windfall.”

For Zhang, the key is keeping one’s mind focused on the financial goals and sticking to them. “After I learned about my winning, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking how I’m gonna spend that big amount of money,” Zhang recalls.

“I will buy something for myself to celebrate, new shoes and new bag, perhaps, but I will not spend too much because I want to save the money to buy a house,” she says.

For another DSF winner, Illuminado “Jay” Diayon from the Philippines, who had recently traded his Nissan Sunny prize for Dh36,000 cash, the prize comes at a very critical time in his life.

Iluminado Diayon

As much as he likes the idea, investing his bounty or splurging on a new pair of shoes is not a priority at the moment.

Diayon, who used to work as a bus driver, is out of job and has been looking for a new employer for a while now.

His visa will expire next month and if he doesn’t find a new job soon, he will be forced to exit Dubai, leaving his wife, who works as a cashier-receptionist, alone.

“I have four kids, one in college, two in high school and one in elementary school. It would be difficult to raise such a big family if only one of us is working,” he says.

“I need the money to sort out my employment papers, pay back the people I owe money from and whatever I have left I will save it in the bank,” he adds.

John Francis Angel, 26, also an expatriate from the Philippines, has recently graced the headlines after winning five kilos of gold in another DSF raffle. He hit the jackpot after filling out a raffle coupon that he got in exchange for the Dh2,000 spent on a necklace and a pair of earrings at Joyalukkas.


Angel was ecstatic about his win, especially after he was told that the precious metal could make him Dh750,000 richer.

“This is indeed a blessing. I know what it feels like to be really broke,” he says.

Unlike the other winners who have already pocketed some hefty cash, Angel has yet to find a buyer of his prize. He’s anticipating that the sudden windfall will help foot the medical expenses of his father, who is stricken with an advanced stage of colon cancer.

At the same time, his elder brother has recently landed in jail over a criminal case that he begs not to elaborate. “I'm currently stressed out thinking how to encash this prize and spend it, but I couldn’t have been more thankful for this,” he says. "It's such a relief, considering the financial trouble my family is into."

The curtain will fall on the 20the edition of DSF on February 1 and more prizes, which have the potential of providing a much-needed financial relief to expatriates like Angel, or realizing the dreams of people who believe in luck like Zhang, are still up for grabs.