Outlets opened to long queues, with a first division prize in the inaugural draw of $360,000 (equivalent to $725,000 today). In the first year, Kiwis ‘invested’ nearly $249 million ($500 million) in the new lottery, which was based on a weekly draw of six numbers plus a bonus number. Lotto has introduced other options such as Powerball and Strike over the years.
By the early 2000s, 67 per cent of the population was regularly playing Lotto. Workmates and families formed syndicates to purchase weekly tickets. Nearly one-third of those buying tickets chose self-selected numbers rather than a computer-generated ‘lucky dip’.
By mid-2007 Lotto had paid out more than $3.75 billion in prize money to more than 63 million winners. The largest amount won on a single ticket is the $36.9 million Big Wednesday jackpot won by a Masterton family in June 2009.
The profits from Lotto – about 70 cents in each dollar – are transferred to the Lottery Grants Board for distribution to sports, arts, film, and community organisations. By 2015 the board had allocated $3.6 billion in grants.