Fri, Dec 28, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Turkish ‘Big Sister’ lottery selling hope for 90 years


People buy lottery tickets at the Nimet Abla lottery stand on Dec. 14 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Photo: AFP

Each year in the run-up to the New Year draw, thousands of people flock to the most famous lottery stand in Istanbul, drawn by the promise on display: “Nimet Abla will make you win.”

For 90 years, the booth has drawn large numbers, filled with hope in these troubled economic times, largely because it has convinced people that it is there that they have the best chance of winning.

So the people flock to the booth, ignoring a growing chorus who consider gambling a sin.

Excited customers take selfies in front of the ticket counters in Eminonu District, close to one of the most beautiful Ottoman mosques in Istanbul, Yeni Cami.

A dozen security guards form a cordon around the stall to stop line-jumpers, redirecting them toward the end of the line that extends for several hundred meters.

With a waiting time of up to four hours on the weekend, those wishing to buy tickets have to be patient. Fortunately for Kemal, he has plenty of it.

“I’ve been trying my luck with Nimet Abla for 50 years,” the retired man said. “I have never won ... for now.”

Nimet Abla, which means “Big Sister Nimet” in Turkish, owes its name and fortune to founder Melek Nimet Ozden. A formidable businesswoman, she ruled over the lottery world for half a century after selling her first ticket in 1928.

Following her death in 1978, her nephew, who is today called Nimet Abi (“Big Brother Nimet”), took over the business.

“We sell more tickets each year,” Nimet Ozden said, adding that they sold 3 million last year, “a 10th of all lottery tickets in Turkey.”

As well as the historic booth in Eminonu, Nimet Abla has two other outlets to which customers flock from all over the country.

This year the New Year jackpot is worth 70 million Turkish lira (US$13.23 million). One ticket costs 70 lira, but there is also “a half ticket” or even a “quarter of a ticket.”

The lines begin as early as 6am and last as late as 11pm ahead of the draw on Monday.

Street vendors try to snatch customers from Nimet Abla with cries of: “No time to wait, we sell the same tickets.”

To stand out from the more than 15,500 authorized national lottery ticket sellers, Nimet Abla relies on its reputation as a lucky charm.

It was something the founder cultivated early on, investing heavily in advertising.

This has allowed it to stand the test of time, unlike other Turkish lottery legends.

Even if Nimet Abla has not sold a winning ticket for the end-of-year draw since 2009, its power of attraction remains intact.

However, not everyone has caught lottery fever. In the majority Muslim country, there has been a growing expression of religious conservatism.

Last year, Turkey’s Diyanet religious affairs agency issued its opinion on the lottery, saying that although it was legal, it was haram — illicit from an Muslim point of view, like all gambling.

Melek Nimet Ozden took care of her image as a pious woman, undertaking the pilgrimage to Mecca several times and building a mosque in her name, but her legacy is nevertheless now a target.

Not far from the booth, a florist, tired of having to give directions to the stall, hung a poster in front of his shop. “Don’t ask me where Nimet Abla is,” it said. “Gambling is a sin.”

Nimet Abi is aware of the criticism, even if he thinks most people do not share those views.

“I already feel lucky enough as it is,” he said as he looked out at the line of impatient customers.

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