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March 19, 1993 - Image 59

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-03-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


Lottery Gives Israel A Dream


`Totomania' grips
Israeli gamblers
as the weekly
soccer pool plays
off big. Real big.


here is official Israel
and there is unofficial
Israel, the national
superego and the na-
tional id. As January came
to a close, the Israeli
superego was focused on the
peace process. The Israeli id,
however, was obsessed with
a thing called "Toto."
Toto, the national weekly
soccer pool, was awarding
the highest first prize in
Israeli gambling history —
at least 10 million shekels,
or close to $4 million. For
four weeks, nobody had cor-
rectly guessed the outcome
of the 15 National League
soccer games on the Toto
card, and the pot had kept
Ogrowing. The press called it
Police increased their
patrols around the
thousands of kiosks and
neighborhood grocery stores
where cards for Toto (and
Mifal Hapayis, the national
lotteries) are sold, to keep
away robbers attracted by
the huge accumulations of
cash. Palestinian laborers
from the West Bank and
Gaza (where there are no
pools or lotteries) bought up
as many Toto cards as they
could afford, and sold them
back in the territories at a
big profit.
It was reported that a man
in Paris who heard about-the
10 million shekel pot flew to
Israel and bought nearly
$25,000 worth of Toto cards.
On the night of Jan. 28, the
last night of betting before
the weekend soccer games,
gambling kiosks stayed open
until 5 a.m.
Shut-ins, people in
wheelchairs, people who
didn't know anything about
soccer and had never bet
before were making their
way to the local Toto man,
plunking down 1.15 shekels
(about 40 cents) for a line of
15 picks, and marking in
their choices. "Who will be
the next millionaire?" was a
typical newspaper headline.
When the betting was fin-
ished and the soccer games
were about to begin, the
Israeli Sports Betting Board,
which runs Toto, reported
that an estimated 350,000
people had wagered on the
pool that week. However,
that number was small com-
pared to the hordes betting
every week on the various
lotteries. Mifal Hapayis
estimates that 1.2-1.5 mill-
ion Israelis play its weekly
numbers games — this, in a

country of only 5 million
About half of the roughly
$400 million that is bet an-
nually on Toto and Mifal
Hapayis goes to sports, edu-
cation and social programs;
the other half is paid out in
prizes. (Consolation prizes,
for picking nearly all of the
soccer results or lottery
digits, descend from about
$12,000 down to six shekels
— a little over $2.)
Betting is mainly a work-
ing-class pursuit, although
plenty of Israelis who are al-
ready millionaires try their
luck. Some religious
gamblers are known to put
in an extra prayer or make
sure to kiss every mezuzah
they pass when they have a
heavy bet going. Some Or-
thodox Jews also wager,
even if they won't attend the
Sabbath soccer matches on
which their money is riding.
Some of the big winners
have become legends. The
best known is probably
Yosef Burgil of Kiryat Gat
because he went broke on
bad investments after winn-
ing about $1 million. (Mr.
Burgil's phone number is
unlisted and he doesn't talk
to the press, but his friends
were reported as saying he's
back on his feet these days.)
Then there were Ibrahim
Misraki and Emile Haddad,
two car washers from
Nazareth who split a $2
million winning ticket in
1990, and are today promi-
nent Nazareth businessmen.
A former mayor of Rishon
Letzion, Hananya Gibstein,
won a few hundred thousand
dollars while he was in of-
fice. (Mr. Gibstein didn't
need the money; he was al-
ready rich from his law prac-
tice reaLestate

So who, if anyone, would
pick the 15 soccer results
this week and become the
next "Toto-millionaire?"
When the games finished
Saturday evening, it turned
out there were four of them.
The gamblers made a joint
bet of about $240 on 576
different 15-pick combina-
tions, and won 10,536,107
shekels, or just under $4
The winners' names are
not supposed to be announc-
ed right off, to protect them
from moochers and robbers.
The Sports Betting Board
said the four current
winners didn't even want

In a nation of 5
million, a many as
1.5 million Israelis
play the weekly

their immediate family to
know, to prevent any slips of
the tongue. But someone at
the Board leaked it to the
Yediot Aharonot newspaper
that one of the quartet was a
man named Zvi Yaron, and
that the bet had been made
in Ramat Gan, which
borders Tel Aviv.
Mr. Yaron was over-
whelmed with visitors and
callers, and he told each of
them, "It wasn't me." Mr.
Yaron runs a betting kiosk
and someone at the Board
evidently saw his Yaron's
name stamped on the winn-
ing Toto stub and mistaken-
ly told the newspaper that
he was one of the lucky four.
Still, people were coming

up to his kiosk with con-
gratulations —"They don't
believe me," he said.
People asked the identities
of the winners, but Mr.
Yaron wouldn't give their
names, saying only that they
were diamond polishers who
split their bets at his kiosk
every week. "When they put
down their last bet, they
promised to take care of me
if they won, but we'll see,"
Mr. Yaron said.
"A rich diamond dealer
won 800,000 shekels (nearly
$300,000) here a few months
ago, and he said he give me
something, but I haven't
seen it yet."
Eli Levy, a diamond
polisher and bettor, said he
was happy to hear that the
winners were polishers —
working stiffs like him.
"They're free now," he ex-
Mr. Levy wagers about $20
a week, and has been doing
so for nearly 30 years. The
biggest prize he ever won
was about $450, and he fig-
ures his career statistics
show he's way in the hole. So
why does he keep betting?
"Because I believe that
one day I'll win the big
prize." And what will he do
with the money? "The first
thing I'll do is throw my
tools at my boss."
As this week began, the
Rabin government was
fighting a propaganda war
to head off sanctions, and the
Hamas deportees were still
sitting in South Lebanon,
hoping world pressure would
bring them home. But at Zvi
Yaron's kiosk, like at kiosks
and markets everywhere in
Israel, people were buying
Toto tickets: the pot had
started again.




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