ISTANBUL // Abdullah Cavus knows exactly what to do when and if he gets the good news. "If I win, I am going to get up and leave all this straight away," Mr Cavus, a shoeshine man in Turkey's metropolis, Istanbul, said yesterday as he pointed to the portable shoeshine stand in front of him. "I will buy a house and give the rest of the money to the poor." Mr Cavus's stand in front of the historic New Mosque in Istanbul's old town is only steps away from Nimet Abla's shop, the city's most famous place to buy lottery tickets. Nimet Abla, or Sister Nimet, is where Mr Cavus bought the lottery ticket he hopes will make him rich.
With a record jackpot of an estimated 55 million lira (Dh113m), today's draw of Turkey's state lottery, "Super Loto", has attracted crowds of customers at Nimet Abla and lottery shops around the country. As the effects of the global economic crisis start to bite and unemployment shoots up, Turks from all walks of life regard a lottery coupon for six lira as their ticket to happiness. The state lottery is one of the few legal ways to gamble in Turkey, where casinos have been banned since the 1990s. According to the latest available figures, Turks spent about six billion lira on lottery tickets between 2002 and 2007. Of that sum, 2.6bn lira were returned as winnings.
While many people bet on horse races and on football matches on a regular basis, nothing compares to the craze the weekly drawing of the Super Loto has triggered. "About 6,000 people come here every day," said Hasan Egri, a clerk working at Nimet Abla since 1994. "I have never seen busier times." As he spoke, two policemen stopped their patrol car in front of Nimet Abla and got out to buy their coupons.
Customers can either fill in their ticket on their own, choosing six numbers in a field of 54, or have a computer generate a combination for them. Most prefer the latter, because they hope Sister Nimet will bring them luck. The shop, a small building with a window front that customers walk up to to buy their tickets, bears the name of Melek Nimet Ozden, who founded it with her husband in 1928 and who quickly acquired a reputation of bringing luck to people who bought their lottery there. She died in 1978, but her fame lives on. As customers lined up in front of the small shop yesterday, pictures in the shop showed Nimet Ozden surrounded by bills of cash, handing out money.
"I have been playing every now and then, whenever the jackpot was high," said Hulya Hamsioglu, 52, who bought a ticket at Nimet Abla. If she wins the big prize, she wants to buy a house, see the world and support her relatives, plans that reflected the dreams of many who were waiting in front of the shop. "I also want to build a school and give grants to students," Mr Hamsioglu said. Not everyone has decided what to do with their hoped-for millions. "I will think about it when I have the money," said Ramazan Yurtsever, 40, a crane operator. Several said they played for the first time this week.
The 55m lira in the jackpot has been piling up because no one has had the six lucky numbers for 12 weeks now. The Hurriyet daily yesterday quoted an unnamed official of the state lottery as saying that the jackpot could be even higher next week if no one succeeds in today's drawing. Some experts have warned the potential winner of dangers that come with a stash of money that is so big that "even the interest will make you rich", as one newspaper put it.
"This amount [of money] destroys a person whose moral values are not well grounded," the daily newspaper Milliyet quoted the psychologist Yalcin Kirecci as saying. Another expert, Arif Verimli of Istanbul's Yeditepe University, advised the winner should not make a decision about what to do with the money for the first 40 to 60 days after winning. While the hopeful formed queues in front of Nimet Abla, some Turks said they did not feel the temptation of becoming rich overnight. "I am not playing because the chances of winning are low. It is like throwing your money away," said a lawyer, Eyup Yasar Gumus, at a table outside a cafe near Nimet Abla's shop. He said the crowds outside places like Nimet Abla were not only gathering because of the big jackpot, but also because of the bleak economic situation and growing unemployment. "The crisis has been having an effect; unemployment is rising, so people see the lottery as a door of hope," he said.
That is certainly true for Mr Cavus, the shoeshine man who has to put three children through school with his meagre income. "Everybody is gambling; everyone wants to have the money," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org