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Explainer: What happens when you win big money on a Lottery gameshow?

What would your strategy be? Would you brave the cameras yourself or nominate a ‘proxy’? Take the car or the cash?

EVERY NOW AND again, the story of a massive lottery win will get huge national attention — knocking serious news off the front-pages of even broadsheet papers, pushing international events down the running order of the Nine O’Clock News. Limerick woman Dolores McNamara’s massive Euromillions windfall springs immediately to mind — while just last weekend a syndicate in Ballyfermot came forward to claim a jackpot worth €3.9 million.

Smaller, more quietly life-changing sums of cash get handed over to contestants each week on the Lottery gameshows. The hugely popular ‘Winning Streak’ has been an anchor of the RTÉ Saturday night schedule for – believe it or not – the last 23 years, while it’s summer replacement ‘The Big Money Game’ has also been a ratings winner.

300 people from all corners of the country appeared on the two shows last year, sharing over €12 million — along with 61 holidays and 36 cars. It would seem the Irish public have a boundless capacity to watch their compatriots rack up huge sums of money playing glittery games of chance.


Though we’ve all dreamt of massive Lotto windfalls (don’t say you haven’t), have you ever wondered what happens when you sit opposite Marty (or whoever) and gamble for the right to walk away with enough cash to, say, put your kids through college, pay off all your loans, and buy a reasonable-sized boat?

‘Is the money tax-free?’ you might want to ask. Do I have to keep the car or can I take the money instead? Can I be trusted not to spend it all at once on my next visit to Ikea?

Well, that last question you’ll have to wrestle with yourself, but can answer the rest, and a few others besides…


2005 Euromillions winner Dolores McNamara [Photocall Ireland]

The contestant

Olive Kelly, from Co Wexford, was a player on the Big Money Game on 31 August this year.

Like all contestants, she found out she’d be appearing the previous Saturday. Returning exhausted following her shift in the local nursing home, the 60-year-old caught the last few minutes of the show alongside her grown-up son Philip. “Can you just imagine winning an amount like that?” she asked, as a woman claimed a €16,000 prize.

A few minutes later, she could stop imagining and start planning. Her three-star card, sent in the previous week, had been drawn out by host Brian Ormond, and her name appeared on screen as one of the five contestants for the following week. The phone was ringing off the hook.

“It was unbelievable. I said to my husband Pat to record the repeat on late at night, so I could be sure it was me.”

The process

The National Lottery has a well-honed plan to handle all this, as you might imagine.

“The process all starts when the lucky tickets are drawn on a Thursday morning, before they’re drawn out on TV,” Lottery spokesperson Eleanor Murphy explains.

“Any tickets received before 10am go into a massive drum for a draw overseen by KPMG and the gardaí. From that, 100 cards go forward to the show to be drawn out.”

Once they are are selected to appear, Lottery representatives travel to the contestants’ homes to confirm their identities and brief them on what will happen the following Saturday.

‘Do they have to appear the following week, or can they defer?’ wants to know.

“No, it has to be the following week,” Murphy explains

“If they don’t want to appear because of health reasons or out of shyness or whatever they can appoint a proxy, but most people decide to appear themselves”.

Olive admits she had considered asking a family member else to take her place:

“I don’t know, I wasn’t sure about it. I was nervous about everything to do with it really.

“I’m not the sort of person who goes after the limelight. But for whatever the reason I decided to go ahead.”

The day

The weekly show is not a live broadcast — it’s taped a few hours in advance, then edited before it goes out at around 8.30 every Saturday night.

The contesants’ long day starts at 11am, as they arrive at RTÉ in Donnybrook for a briefing with the ‘draw manager’ on how the whole process will work.

After that it’s hair and make-up, followed by a meet and greet with the hosts.

“You meet with Brian Ormond and the other girl, Sinéad,” Olive says.

“He asked me what I was planning to spend the money on. I told him I wanted to pay off my credit union loan, and that I still had a bit to go on a suite of furniture from Paddy Kelly’s.”

Olive says she “nearly got sick” after a draw carried out backstage determined she would be the first before the cameras. But a friendly warm-up man, and the skills of the genial host helped set her nerves at ease as proceedings got under way.

Sticking to her pre-decided numbers and game strategies, the mother-of-three was sent home to Wexford with a cheque for €53,000. Not bad for an hour’s work.

“I didn’t even look at it till we got home,” she says.

“There was a surprise party on for us at the pub, and you’re sworn to secrecy after the taping, I couldn’t tell anyone else there how I’d got on until the show came on at half eight.”

And her plans for the winnings?

“Well, I’ve the credit union all paid off, and the furniture man’s happy enough with me now.

“I wouldn’t like to win a bigger amount of money because, you know, it would change you, it would change people around you. I wouldn’t like what it would do.”

imageA relieved Olive Kelly, pictured alongside Brian Ormond, and her granddaughter Alanna [Image: Sharon Kelly]

The money

All the money won on Lottery gameshows is tax-free, and contestants are given their cheque right there-and-then when the taping ends. They’re also given a booklet of hints and tips on what to do with their windfall, which includes information on financial and legal advisers.

While ‘The Big Money Game’ is focused solely on cold hard cash, contestants on ‘Winning Streak’ also get cars and holidays, but they’re given the option of trading them in for the monetary value. Most do.

As for how Olive’s fared since her TV debut, she says her lucky streak shows no signs of ending.

“I’m still a big fan of the bingo. I won €25 the week after I was on the show, and another €25 the week after that.”

At least we know the cash won’t change her.

Read: National Lottery to be sold for €405 million to An Post and Camelot

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