Irish Hospital Sweepstakes ‘Anybody who saw the Irish State running this and the head of the police being the man in charge, then it had to be honest’

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Reader’s Digest called it ‘the greatest bleeding heart racket in the world’

The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake was a lottery established in 1930 to fund the building of hospitals in the Irish Free State. Though such lotteries were illegal in most jurisdictions at the time, tickets were sold in every corner of the globe, raking in millions and millions of pounds.

But what began with noble intentions turned into one of the country’s greatest scandals. Joe MacAnthony broke the story back in the 1973 and joined Marty Morrissey on The Ryan Tubridy Show this morning ahead of a Scannal documentary about the scandal airing tonight on RTÉ One.

As he explained, only 10% of the money raised was given over to the hospitals, with the rest making the founders of the Sweep very wealthy. “They started taking huge expenses, giving money to people who might be valuable to them,” he said.

The key to the lottery’s success was its association with the Irish government and the Gardaí, who were in charge of tickets.

“To anybody around the world who saw the Irish State running this and the head of the police being the man in charge, then it had to be honest. And that’s how they fooled people into thinking this was an honest operation.”

The story involved an elaborate web of worldwide ticket smuggling, law enforcement issues, tickets sold abroad that never made it back to Ireland and tickets that never even made it into the drum.

The fallout was a massive scandal for the Irish State. Joe, for his part, lost his job at The Irish Independent and ended up moving to Canada, where he worked with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

You can hear more about the story on Scannal, which will air tonight on RTÉ One at 7.00pm

For more from The Ryan Tubridy Show, click here.

© The Listener 2017

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