DUBLIN, Ireland — The Hospitals Sweepstakes, a 56-year-old Irish institution known worldwide as the Irish Sweepstakes, passed into history Friday.
The Dublin headquarters of the "sweep" closed its doors after deciding it could not compete with a state-run lottery to be introduced next month.
In its heyday, Irish Sweepstakes tickets were sold in 180 countries around the world, with winners coming from Caracas to Cape Town, Bengal to Buffalo.
Established in 1930, the sweepstakes paid out more than $500 million in prize money and contributed $200 million to hospital building programs.
The biggest winner was Italian ice cream vendor Emilio Scala, whose 1931 prize of $1.5 million would be worth many times that much in 1987 dollars.
At one point, the sweepstakes had the international cash contest field almost to itself. But it fell on hard times after individual states in the United States started lotteries--some offering prizes in the millions of dollars. Proceeds from the United States, the mainstay of the sweepstakes, slumped.
The Irish Sweepstakes, a private company operating with government approval, had been losing money for several years. Recent first prizes have ranged from $150,000 to about $225,000.
Ireland's new state-run lottery will offer prizes from $15 to $400,000 and the proceeds will be used to finance projects in health, sports, arts and the Irish language.
The Irish Sweepstakes was set up by a committee from six Dublin hospitals, the Hospitals Trust Ltd., in 1930. Anyone who bought a ticket anywhere in the world got a hand-written receipt.
Each Irish Sweepstakes drawing centered on a horse race and winners were identified when uniformed nurses plucked tickets from a huge drum in the sweepstakes' offices near Dublin. The races involved were the Lincolnshire Handicap in Doncaster, England; the Cambridgeshire, in Newmarket, England, and the Irish Derby.
The Irish Sweepstakes organization put in a bid to run the new Irish national lottery but the contract was awarded to the Post Office.
Irish Sweepstakes laid off the last 160 of its workers on Friday.
The organization's headquarters, in the Ballsbridge suburb of Dublin, and its 11 acres of grounds are expected to be sold for about $15 million, which will go toward building hospitals.