UAE’s New Fatwa Approved Lottery Offers Record Payout

A new lottery of the United Arab Emirates, though spinning on the edge of religious land, offers a record payout.

Emirates Loto broadcast this weekend broadcast the first official lottery drawing by the UAE, featuring Lebanese TV host Wissam Breidy and Indian actress / model Aishwarya Ajit. The grand prize for achieving all six numbers was AED35 m (US$ 9.5 m) but one player who matched five numbers for an AED350k reward was the nearest individual to ever come close.

The jackpot for next week’s draw now rises to AED40 m and should no one match all six numbers, it will continue to rise until its AED50 m maximum cap. There are other lotteries in the UAE but they offer much smaller prizes and tickets can only be obtained from international airport duty-free zones, resulting in all foreigners becoming the winners.

The Qur’an makes it clear that gambling is strictly prohibited (haram) but the promoters of the lottery managed to obtain a religious order (fatwa) provided by the Islamic Affairs & Endowments General Authority in Abu Dhabi exempting their commodity from this prohibition. The fatwa was protected by making sure the transaction involved an exchange of interest.

This was accomplished by buying ‘collectable cards’ from the customer which feature images of iconic UAE sites. The cards cost AED35 and can be purchased locally via participating retailers or through the Emirates Loto website and app, which also allows foreign players aged 18 or older to play and win.

Customers who wish to participate in the lottery must register their cards with the Emirates Loto site / app (for no extra charge), after which they can pick their own six numbers or randomly choose a six-number combination from the machine.

The first draw of the lottery was scheduled to take place in late March but was postponed due to social distance criteria of the UAE government. The next draw will take place in the holy month of Ramadan, pushing the drawing time to 10 pm in order to conform to religious regulations.

Emirates Loto boss Paul Sebestyen, a lotery veteran on markets ranging from South Carolina to South Korea, told local media outlet The National that the lottery will “change lives” via donations to “charity associations and other organisations that assist people in need.” These organisations have obviously yet to be identified, but Sebestyen says his group is in talks with different charities.

Not everybody is pleased with the new product, with Spanish media outlet El Mundo citing a former head of the Islamic division of JPMorgan saying that he was not pleased with “commercial gymnastics exercises to gain Sharia approval,” while he admitted that “prize draws … have been used by Islamic banks in the Middle East for more than a decade.”

The website of Emirates Loto includes a list of ‘sanctioned’ nations, whose citizens are unable to participate in the drawings. It’s a pretty strange list, like Afghanistan, Cuba, Israel, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, and “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”