• Kyodo News


The National Agency for the Advancement of Sports and Health has started selling the new soccer lottery ticket BIG in a desperate attempt to boost its dying soccer lottery program.

The sports agency began selling the new lottery tickets, with a jackpot of 600 million yen, earlier this month to get nonsoccer fans to play.

Its first soccer lottery, toto, requires people to predict a win or a loss in J. League games. People who buy BIG tickets have their bet on results randomly chosen by computer.

“Even those who don’t know soccer can enjoy (the BIG lottery) as well,” said Shigeo Takasugi, an executive at the sports agency.

Lottery enthusiasts agree.

“It’s easy to buy as you don’t have to make any predictions,” a customer said at a lottery kiosk in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

The soccer lottery, passed into law at the initiative of the education ministry and a group of lawmakers interested in education, was launched in 2001 to help promote sports by distributing some of its profits to sports organizations, including the Japan Association of Athletics Federations.

Some industry observers say the introduction of the soccer lottery was not only intended to secure financial resources for the eduction ministry but also to give jobs to retiring civil servants.

However, the program has not been able to repeat the success of its first year, when profits from ticket sales totaled 46.8 billion yen. They have continued to slide, with a loss of 2.1 billion yen in fiscal 2005.

Subsidies to sports organizations have subsequently dropped. They were a mere 120 million yen this fiscal year, down from 5.8 billion yen in the first year.

Most of the sports organizations, which use the money to train young athletes, say they can no longer rely on lottery money and are looking for other funding.

“The soccer lottery has been a failure,” said one Japanese Olympic Committee official, who asked not to be named. “If the subsidy is this small, we don’t need it at all.”

The agency is in dire need of a hit lottery to get out of debt. It still owes 22 billion yen on a 35 billion yen loan from Resona Bank, which was in charge of selling tickets until fiscal 2005. The money was borrowed to launch ticket sales and was to have been repaid this year.

To repay the money, the agency is planning to borrow from other financial institutions.

In March, the agency began selling lottery tickets with a higher chance of a win and has been selling them through convenience stores. Still, sales have not improved.

Sports journalist Seijun Ninomiya is critical of their marketing strategy. He said the agency and other parties involved “have been negligent in firmly establishing the soccer lottery with the public.”

“They should explain the necessity of the lottery from the fundamental standpoint of promoting sports,” Ninomiya said.

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