Thiruvananthapuram | Last September, 31-year old Anoop M who won Rs 25 crore in a lottery, was famously heard saying "I wish I had not won." He said he was hassled by people known and unknown to him asking for financial help. Today, Anoop is a part of the state government's lottery business and is arguably Kerala's only crorepati lottery agent.
Anoop, a former auto driver is now busy listing out the serial numbers of the Kerala State Lotteries and contacting prospective clients to sell his tickets.
His sleek iPhone seems stuck to his ear as he is heard interacting with customers in his newly opened lottery retail store 'M A Lucky Centre'.
Until a few weeks ago, Anoop, winner of the biggest draw in Kerala Lottery history - the Thiruvonam Bumper, was on the run. He was mastering the art of giving the slip to people who sought financial help from him.
He had to constantly shift his place of residence so that needy people would stop crowding his house. As things have calmed down now, his newly won luxurious lifestyle is slowly falling in place.
"Nothing much has changed," Anoop said while pulling out a bundle of letters and postcards from the cupboard. "I still get countless letters, all asking for financial aid and many still visit my shop asking for help. I am tired," Anoop, sporting a thick golden bracelet and a thicker gold chain around his neck, told PTI.
Anoop is a glittering microcosm of Kerala government-owned lottery business which is now creating a millionaire everyday.
The Kerala Lottery department has more than 1 lakh registered agents. Under them there are several unregistered sub-agents and hawkers, effectively making it the livelihood for several lakhs of people in the state.
The total turnover in FY-21 was Rs 7,145.22 crore. Out of that Rs 4,079.28 crore was spent towards prizes, Rs. 1,798.32 crore towards discount to the agents and Rs.524.3 crore towards agents' prize.
"It is the government's policy to seek public participation in the government's social welfare schemes. All the money collected through lottery sales are used for implementing various social welfare schemes of the government," B T Anil Kumar, publicity officer of the Directorate of State Lotteries, told PTI.
It is not just the Keralites who are keenly purchasing these tickets. The residents of neighbouring states and also the sizable migrant labour population in Kerala are regular buyers and many are winners as well.
The ups and downs faced by the state's lottery winners have even led the lottery directorate to start a training programme in financial management for prize winners with the help of Gulati Institute of Taxation.
"It is the policy of the government to encourage all citizens of this country to be part of Kerala Lottery. As per the Lottery Act, the tickets can be sold only within the geographical boundaries of Kerala. But anyone who visits the state can purchase a ticket and claim the prize amount by producing the necessary documents and the original of the ticket," Kumar said.
With a growing customer base, many are now looking to selling lottery tickets as their main occupation.
"I need to pay my house rent with this, fund the education of my children, take care of my husband who is unwell and also take care of myself. I have been selling lotteries for the last 11 years," Sathi Kumari, who is a lottery hawker near the Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram said.
There are several thousands like Kumari who depend on the money they get from the lottery sales to eke out a living.
According to government statistics, the revenue of a lottery worker has gone up from 8.4 per cent of ticket sales and commission from prize money per draw in 2019 to 10.69 per cent in 2022. "We now have a lottery for all the days of the week, so the revenue of the lottery workers have also gone up. We have also increased the number of tickets available for sales," Anil Kumar said.
The government also runs a welfare fund for lottery agents and sellers. One per cent of the total revenue turnover is earmarked for this fund, which is being used for providing financial assistance for treatment of the members, providing tri-scooter or beach umbrellas for physically challenged members and also to provide an Onam allowance to all the members. In the last six years, more than Rs 200 crore has been disbursed to the members through this welfare scheme.
Kerala's state-owned lottery system was launched during the second term of the EMS Namboodiripad government in 1967, with an aim to boost state revenue and also to provide a stable income model for the unemployed and differently-abled persons. It now has prize money from Rs 100 to Rs 25 crore through its daily and six bumper lotteries.
A comprehensive security system with watermarks, security codes and safety numbers on tickets, ensure safety and prevent counterfeiting, rigging or other malpractices, officials said, adding that the prize money is distributed only after the security wing of the lottery directorate examines the physical ticket for any irregularity.
Lottery is legal in over a dozen states in India and the remaining states have banned sale of lottery tickets. Despite criticism from some quarters including from Governor Arif Mohammed Khan who had said Kerala was making its poor people spend their earnings on lottery tickets and getting them addicted to alcohol, the state government promoted its lottery business briskly and earned revenues of over Rs 7,000 crore last year.
Gleaming with delight over people like Anoop joining the lottery business, Anil Kumar said "It's truly inspirational that Anoop thought of becoming a lottery agent. It will inspire other youngsters also to take up lottery selling as a viable livelihood option, despite their financial status."