This week, we go back 60 years to the month, to find my grandpa breaking the law and probably getting fleeced at the same time.
Can’t beat that combo, can you?
I have only the dimmest memory of ever hearing of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake (yes, singular — Sweepstake).
Like Conelrad or the Chicago Cardinals, it’s a name from a generation or two before my own. I was apparently 13 when the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake ceased to exist, and I don’t recall taking any notice.
As its name indicates, the Sweepstake was a legal lottery in Ireland, established in 1930. It was promoted as a way to raise money for hospitals, with uniformed nurses — or women in nurses’ uniforms, anyway — drawing the winning tickets.
As the Interwebs explain it, winning tickets were then assigned to horses running in major races in Ireland. So it sounds like a contestant’s chances of hitting the jackpot depended not only on nurses, but horses as well.
It worked for some people: According to news reports, the lottery paid out $500 million in prize money over its half-century or so of life.
But those for whom the Sweepstake worked best were neither the nurses nor the ticket-buyers.
Reportedly, much of the money raised went into the pockets of the people who ran the lottery, with a relatively small percentage — I’ve seen 10 percent quoted — going to health care.
(Some sources say the people who profited re-invested in Irish business, creating jobs in other areas. That’s as may be, but that’s not what the people who bought tickets thought they were supporting.)
The Sweepstake also walked a questionable legal line. It targeted ticket-buyers in England and the United States, more affluent countries where substantial numbers of Irish expats lived — but where lotteries were generally illegal. The Wiki page on the Sweepstake characterizes those sales as a “black market,” and says the U.S. Postal Service destroyed lottery materials being mailed back to Ireland.
So I’ll never know whether the ticket bought jointly by the engineers at Time Inc.’s facility in Stamford even made it back to the auld sod. Since I know of no family legends regarding the Irish Sweeps, it seems safe to assume my grandpa and his cohorts did not win.
My grandpa’s penchant for playing the lottery has been a recurring theme here over the past few years, starting with this post.
And, lotteries like the one described in that post would help kill the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. As state governments in the U.S. began to legalize lotteries, Americans abandoned the faraway temptations of the Irish Sweeps for closer, safer options at home.
(Which they still didn’t win.)
Bonus multimedia content: This 52-minute Irish TV program is a pretty fascinating history of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. Check it out, even in part.