It may be the luckiest lottery booth in the world. It’s certainly one of the most popular. In the heart of Istanbul’s historic Eminonu district, the Nimet Abla lottery kiosk has become so renowned for producing regular winners that it has become a magnet for the punters.
People travel for miles around — from well beyond the city limits — to snap up a ticket. Others make proxy purchases, posting the slips to friends and relatives in other cities. Such is the kiosk’s reputation that one in 10 lotto tickets in Turkey is sold here, and demand from all over the country as well as from abroad has been so high that the firm started online sales last year.
Melek Nimet Ozden founded the kiosk, lending it both her name and her luck. Nimet Abla (“Big sister Nimet”) started selling lottery tickets in 1928, and after she won the big New Year’s lottery draw in 1931, her shop earned nationwide fame as the luckiest lottery booth in Turkey.
Certainly the kiosk generates winners most weeks, though that now may be down to the sheer numbers of people who buy from it.
Ayhan Karagul has been working at the kiosk for six years and regularly plays the lotto — so far without any luck.
“Of course I am happy when our tickets win,” he said.
According to him, about 25 of the 32 monthly lottery draws generate at least a three-digit win for tickets bought at Nimet Abla, and almost every year since 1988 a share of the New Year’s jackpot goes to a ticket it sold.
“It’s statistics,” Karagul said. “We sell so many tickets that there is always at least one that wins something.”
Not everyone approves. Abdurrahman Yildiz, an ice-cream seller at a stand next door, does not condone the business of his famous neighbor.
“According to our religion, money has to be earned, not won,” he said.
Although the Ministry for Religious Affairs reminds Muslims every year that gambling is considered sinful in Islam, ticket sales continue to rise, and increased 14.3 percent last year compared with 2010, securing more than 2 billion lira (US$1.1 million) in revenue for the national lottery fund.
Religious conservatives bemoan the Turks’ relentless appetite for games of chance. However, it is not all bad: in 10 years, profits from lottery tickets helped build 30 schools as well as student accommodation and rehabilitation centers all over the country.
Bekir Varol, 30, from Siirt, who works as a private security guard in Istanbul, fills out a lottery ticket once a week, and always at Nimet Abla.
“I send lottery tickets to my father every year, and every time he is angry with me, because he thinks gambling is a sin. If he would win, he would not accept the money,” Varol said.
His wife nodded.
“I don’t want my husband to gamble either, it’s not right,” she said.
After a small pause, she said expectantly: “But wouldn’t it be great to win anyway?”