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When was the first Lotto draw in South Africa?

The South Africa National Lottery has an interesting history dating back to the late 1800s. South Africa’s lottery system has undergone many changes over the years, evolving into the national draw game it is today. In this article, we will explore the origins of lottery games in South Africa, looking at important milestones like the first lottery draw, the introduction of new games, and changes in legislation that shaped the lottery system. Understanding the history provides insight into this popular, long-standing game in South African culture.

The Beginnings of Lottery in South Africa

Gambling and lottery games have long been popular activities in South Africa. The first recorded lotteries began in the 1880s in the Cape Colony and Natal. These early games were initiated as fundraising events, allowing charitable organizations and municipalities to generate revenue for causes like hospitals, libraries, sport clubs and more.

The earliest draws were organized at the local level. For example, in 1881 Cape Town held its first lottery draw to raise funds for the Green Point Track. The total prizes were valued around £7200, sizable sums at that time. More municipal lotteries soon followed in communities across South Africa through the end of the 19th century.

These unofficial games drew public interest and provided needed funding, but lacked oversight. Fraud and mismanagement ran rampant without regulations in place. The Cape Colony government first passed Gambling and Lottery Laws in 1892 in an attempt to control the industry. However, localized lottery draws continued around South Africa with varying degrees of success and scandal for several more decades.

The First National Lottery 1916

It wasn’t until 1916 that the first national lottery draw was organized in South Africa. The lottery was run by the South African Red Cross Society to generate funding to support the Allied effort in World War I.

The Red Cross National Lottery launched in October 1916 with permission from the Minister of Interior. This government sanctioned draw helped lend credibility to the game nationwide.

The lottery itself was organized similarly to games played today. Players purchased numbered tickets from vendors across the country. Ticket prices ranged from 1 to 5 shillings depending on the value of prizes available. The total purse of prizes equaled £50,000.

A series of draws were held, with winning numbers published in newspapers after each event. Prizes included cash up to £5000 as well as property, cars, and other luxuries not readily available during wartime.

The lottery proved wildly popular, selling over 1 million tickets for the draws held in 1917. The public enthusiasm translated into real funds for the Red Cross. By 1918, the lottery had raised over £235,000, equivalent to over R50 million today.

While deemed an overall success, the management and procedures of the Red Cross National Lottery still had flaws. Complaints emerged over delays announcing and distributing prizes after draws. The lottery also ended operations abruptly after the war in 1918, failing to make arrangements to honor outstanding winning tickets.

Despite its problems, the lottery served as an important first experiment in coordinated, national lottery drawing in South Africa. It set the stage for more robust lottery systems in the future.

Lotteries Prohibited: 1916-1956

Just as soon as national lotteries launched in South Africa, they disappeared. In 1916, one year after approving the Red Cross National Lottery, the government passed the Lotteries and Sports Pool Act. This abruptly banned all lottery activities across the country.

The reasoning behind this change was to suppress illegal gambling and fraud linked to unregulated lotteries. However, the broad-sweeping law also eliminated legal charity lotteries that funded good causes.

For the next 40 years, National Lotteries were prohibited in South Africa. Some illegal underground games continued discreetly during this time. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that activists once again pushed for legal, regulated lottery gaming options.

In 1954, the Dutch Reformed Church led an effort to lobby the government, citing the need to allow well-managed lotteries that generated money for charity. The public also strongly supported legal lottery gaming.

This pressure resulted in a 1956 referendum on lottery prohibition. An overwhelming majority – nearly 75% of voters – chose to repeal the ban. This public mandate opened the door for the government to lift restrictions and establish official frameworks for National Lotteries.

The Hospitals’ Lottery 1956

With public sentiment decidedly pro-lottery, the government moved to capitalize on this opportunity. The first lottery launched after the ban was repealed was called the Hospitals’ Lottery.

As the name suggests, this lottery was initiated in 1956 specifically to raise funds for hospital construction and medical services nationwide. At the time, South Africa lacked an organized national healthcare system, so hospitals relied on community support.

The Minister of Health appointed a Hospitals’ Lottery Board to manage the new game. Several guidelines and rules were established for oversight of lottery procedures and prize payouts. These addressed some of the past fraud issues experienced with charity lotteries of the past.

Under the new Hospital Lotteries:

– 60% of revenue went to a Hospital Fund for building and facilities
– 36% went to prizes
– 4% went to vendors as commission
– Players had to be 18 or older

The first Hospitals’ Lottery draw was held on September 22, 1956. For 5 weeks, players purchased prepaid tickets from authorized vendors for either 5p, 10p, or 15p. Top prizes included a new car valued at £1000 and large cash prizes up to £5000.

The initial 1956 lottery was a large scale success. Subsequent hospital lotteries were held annually until 1972, when the lottery evolved into a new model. Over the 16 year run, the Hospitals’ Lottery generated over R50 million for healthcare services.

The State Lottery 1972

In 1972, management of the national lottery shifted from the Hospitals’ Board to the government Department of Social Welfare and Pensions. With this change came a new name – the State Lottery.

The State Lottery followed a similar structure to the old Hospitals’ Lottery but expanded its beneficiary base. In addition to hospitals, funds now also went to support elder care, children’s services, correctional services and more. This allowed a wider range of community causes to benefit from lottery proceeds.

The State Lottery drew weekly, using a 5 out of 45 numbering system on tickets. Draws aired on TV and radio stations nationwide starting in 1978, allowing the public to follow along with winning numbers. Top prizes ranged from R5000 to R25,000.

Over its nearly 20 year run, the State Lottery generated over R87 million for social welfare programming. The game expanded in popularity over time. By 1991, vendors were selling 3 million State Lottery tickets weekly across South Africa.

The National Lottery 1993

In 1993, the government moved to establish an all-new National Lottery system to once again update lottery practices in South Africa. This represented the biggest shift in decades, transforming the lottery into a modern game more like we know it today.

The National Lotteries Act established the National Lotteries Board to regulate this new lottery program. Important changes included:

– Broadening beneficiary base – Funds now went to support sports, arts, culture, miscellaneous charities along with welfare programs
– Introducing new lottery games – Starting in 1996, the lottery offered scratch cards in addition to the draw game tickets
– Increased revenue share – Now only 50% went to good causes, 40% towards prizes, 10% for operating costs
– Bigger prizes – Jackpots were now up to R5 million
– Open bidding – The contract to manage the National Lottery was open for competitive bidding among private companies

The first National Lottery draw was held on March 1, 1993 with great excitement across South Africa. The multimillion Rand jackpot drew substantial interest. The National Lottery sold over 5 million tickets for its initial draw.

The rights to manage the new lottery were awarded to Uthingo Management, launching the public-private partnership still running the National Lottery today.

Launch of New National Lottery Games

The mid-1990s brought more lottery innovations designed to further grow player participation and lottery proceeds. Importantly, new National Lottery games were introduced alongside the main draw game.

The first was instant win scratch cards in October 1996. These lottery cards offered instant cash prizes up to R20,000. Their simple play style made for popular impulse purchases.

Next came Lotto Plus 1 and Lotto Plus 2 in February 1997. These supplementary draw games allowed players an additional chance to win when purchasing main Lotto tickets. Lotto Plus 1 used the main winning Lotto numbers to determine prizes. Lotto Plus 2 was an additional standalone draw.

Other new National Lottery games rolled out over the next few years including:

– Pick 3 (1998) – Pick 3-digit number for chance to win up to R500
– Big Wednesday (2000) – Match numbers for share of R100 million+ super jackpot
– PowerBall (2009) – American-style lottery with drawn numbers and powerball for big jackpots

These new options further drove overall National Lottery participation and proceeds through the 1990s and 2000s.

Gidani Takeover 2001

In 2001, the contract to run the National Lottery changed hands from Uthingo to a new company, Gidani. This resulted from issues around Uthingo’s ownership and failure to meet required proceeds targets.

The Gidani takeover brought a major modernization effort in management and technology for National Lottery games. Some of their key changes included:

  • – Adding more advanced central gaming systems for draw operations and logistics
  • – Expanding retailer network from 5,000 to over 10,000 with more convenience store partners
  • – Growing sales force and introducing sales agent commission structure
  • – Improving marketing efforts with big name brand ambassadors
  • – Offering players more ways to purchase including mobile, EFT, e-commerce along with traditional paper tickets

These Gidani investments paid off through substantial growth. By 2011, total annual lottery sales reached R4 billion. Gidani’s contract was renewed through 2028 based on their strong operating results.

Lottery Scandals and Controversies

While the National Lottery has had many success stories, it hasn’t been without some controversies over the years. The nature of the lottery industry and large sums of money involved naturally lend themselves to scandals on occasion.

Some examples of National Lottery scandals include:

– **1993** – Early computer glitches during the first electronic draws delay prize payouts and damage credibility

– **1996** – Reports surface that Uthingo executives are living lavish lifestyles off of public lottery proceeds

– **2007** – Multiple Lotto winners are found to be part of an insider fraud ring rigging wins

– **2010** – Reports indicate only 15% of lottery revenues going to charity causes vs. required 50% minimum

– **2015** – Gidani system errors result in some players buying PowerBall tickets with duplicated winning numbers

These incidents drew major negative publicity. However, government oversight and regulation evolved to address systematic issues. Ongoing audits and transparency practices provide oversight and public trust in lottery operations today.

Lottery Good Causes

While playing the lottery is fun for participants, the real purpose of South Africa’s national lottery has always been to raise money for good causes. Since 1993, the National Lottery has generated billions in proceeds benefiting public services across South Africa.

By law, at least 50% of National Lottery revenues must go into identified good causes. In recent years, this allocation has increased to as much as 57%. Some highlights of major lottery contributions include:

  • Over R27 billion for charities focused on community welfare, health, education, sports, and more
  • Around 22,000 facilities have received National Lottery funding since 1993
  • R460 million contributed just in 2020/21
  • Nearly 120,000 jobs created through lottery-funded infrastructure and programs

This support has had real societal impact. Some examples of major initiatives enabled by National Lottery funding:

  • – Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital – R100 million in seed funding
  • – Equal Education – R63 million over 8 years to improve school facilities nationwide
  • – Sports programs – Over R5 billion for construction of fields, facilities and athlete development
  • – Arts grants – R4 billion supporting 80 arts organizations and 8000 arts projects

The National Lottery enables this critical aid by pooling small contributions from many participants toward major community investments.

Lottery Participation and Winners

The National Lottery has always relied on broad public participation to drive proceeds. Since 1993, over 29 million winning lottery tickets have been sold across all games.

Some interesting National Lottery statistics over the years:

Year Tickets Sold Prizes Won Biggest Winner
1993 5 million R19 million R5.8 million
1996 92 million R561 million R15.7 million
2000 174 million R863 million R32.7 million
2010 768 million R4.2 billion R95 million
2020 1.2 billion R7.5 billion R232 million

The biggest ever single National Lottery winner was a 2011 PowerBall jackpot of R102 million. Winners have come from all backgrounds and walks of life. Notable past South African lottery winners include:

– A domestic worker from Lenasia winning R40 million in 2005
– An unemployed man using his last R7 to buy a winning ticket for R49 million in 2009
– A retired couple from Durban landing a Powerball jackpot of R145 million in 2013
– A 20 year old student taking a R73 million Powerball prize in 2019

These major winners capture public attention, but smaller prizes are more the norm. With millions of South Africans trying their luck every year, the lottery offers aspirational hope and entertainment.


Since the first wager on lottery numbers back in the 1880s, games of chance have become ingrained in South African culture. For over a century, lotteries have evolved as a popular pastime and way for the public to support community causes.

Key milestones like the establishment of the first National Lottery in 1916 built momentum in the industry. Over decades, lottery practices modernized and expanded in scope. The current National Lottery enables participation nationwide through a wide range of lottery games. Millions of players now engage with scratch cards, daily draws, PowerBall, and more for chances at life-changing riches.

Not without some controversies and scandals along the way, the South African lottery system today is regulated for fairness and public benefit. Billions of Rand raised since 1993 helped fund major charities, hospitals, sports, arts and community growth across South Africa. The National Lottery will likely continue this legacy, providing fun and funding, well into the future.