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UAE launches region's first 'fatwa-approved' lottery

The United Arab Emirates has launched the region’s first fully digital and live lottery drawing at a time the world economy suffers under the coronavirus crisis.

The United Arab Emirates broadcast its first lottery drawing April 18. The prize: 35 million dirhams, or $9.5 million.

The Emirates Loto is "the region’s first fatwa-approved, fully digital collectable scheme with an optional entry to a weekly live draw," according to the loto's website. In essence, a Sharia-compliant lottery system whereby people buy "collectables" — in this case cards that depict famous sites throughout the UAE — for a fee, and then have the option of entering into a drawing free of charge.

The main objective is to “donate millions of dollars for the public good and to give back to the community and the country as a whole,” Emirates Loto CEO Paul Sebestyen told Al-Monitor.

The Emirates Loto is open to anyone over the age of 18 in the UAE and across the globe, and its collectables may be purchased online and through an app or in thousands of retail stores around the UAE for around $10.

After purchasing the collectable, the buyer can choose to opt into a free live draw to win anywhere from $10 million to $13 million in a jackpot of prizes every week.

Online buyers also have the option of donating their collectable to charity instead. The collectables can be purchased at more than 10,000 outlets in the UAE.

So how is this Sharia compliant?

“The Emirates Loto is a privately held company with a license and fatwa from Abu Dhabi,” said Sebeysten. A fatwa is a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority. As per the Islamic fatwa and Sharia principles, there needs to be an exchange of value, which is where the collectables come in. Sebeysten added, “Entering the weekly lottery is completely optional and many who purchased the collectables did not even enter the draw.”

The draw is much like a lottery in the United States or Europe, where the purchaser selects six numbers from one to 49. If three, four, five or six of the numbers that have been selected for the draw match the six numbers randomly drawn by the Emirates Loto ball machine that week, they win a prize.

The draws are live streamed across multiple digital platforms.

The Emirates Loto comes at a time when the entire world’s economies have come to a standstill due to the outbreak and spread of COVID-19.

“We are in the business of changing lives and raising funds for people and the community. Today, it’s more relevant than ever given the financial situation globally related to the coronavirus,” said Sebeysten.

National lotteries are used across the globe as a means for raising money for education, health, social services and nonprofits. And each lottery, whether in a state or country, uses the funds generated from a lottery differently according to Sebeysten.

“The weekly draw [in the UK] provided a huge chunk of funds to help support the London Olympics,” said Sebeysten, who has more than 30 years of global lottery experience.

Although a lottery can give someone the feeling of taking a chance; the reality is the chance of picking all six-numbers drawn about 1 in 14,000,000.

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