The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will try to boost sales of soccer lottery tickets by increasing the chances of winning and selling tickets on the Internet, beginning April 2006.

The ministry’s decision is designed to halt a slide in sales of lottery tickets that has resulted in cutbacks to a number of sports organizations’ grants.

Officials said the proposals represent “the maximum reforms” the ministry can make under present laws.

Toto tickets first hit the market in March 2001, costing 100 yen each.

Two-thirds of the earnings, after prize money and expenses, is used to promote sports, and one-third is plowed into state coffers.

Ticket purchasers bet either a win, a loss or a draw for 13 J. League soccer games.

There are about 1.6 million combinations.

The top prize for 13 correct game results is 100 million yen. If there is no winner, the money is added to the next round’s prize.

The National Agency for the Advancement of Sports and Health, an independent administrative agency, manages the sale of Toto tickets, which amounted to about 64.3 billion yen in the first year, lower than the goal of 81.2 billion yen.

Under the new formula to begin in 2006, ticket holders can guess the results on five or more games to win. Details will be completed in December.

If the present formula of guessing the outcome of a game is adopted for five games, there will be about 240 combinations.

Soccer lottery tickets have earned the reputation of being unwinnable because the ministry had restricted the probability of winning a prize to less than 1 million-to-one, fearing that a high chance of winning would encourage minors to play.

The sports agency’s survey in September 2003 showed that the slim chance of hitting the jackpot is the key reason purchasers stopped buying tickets.

Ticket sales amounted to a record 64.3 billion yen in fiscal 2001, but sales dropped to about one-fifth of that amount during the current fiscal year.

As a result, grant money for sports organizations and the maintenance of sports facilities has drastically plunged.

The sports agency hopes ticket sales will rise as a result of the sports ministry increasing the chances of winning.

However, critics say there is no guarantee that the ministry’s changes will lead to increased sales, pointing out that the sports agency’s 2003 survey also showed that the number of people no longer interested in J. League soccer had risen to 53 percent from 36 percent in 2002.

Yasushi Mitarai, the ministry’s administrative vice minister, said, “The increase in Toto sales is necessary to substantially support the reinforcement of players for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.”

“There will be a serious effect on the promotion of sports in the future unless (ticket) sales go up,” said former education and science minister Takeo Kawamura.

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