MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s national lottery on Tuesday was set to create 100 millionaires with a much-hyped raffle that the government has tied to a luxury presidential jet slammed as a symbol of the corrupt excesses condoned by its predecessors.
The total prize money loosely represents the value of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has promised to sell to raise funds for social programs.
Mexico has struggled to find a buyer for the jet, and the raffle was conceived as an alternative way of generating funds, specifically for the public health sector.
Children mixed the balls in brass spheres before drawing numbers to make up 100 winning combinations in a spectacle that was transmitted on live television as part of independence day festivities.
Held at the headquarters of the national lottery, which was founded in 1770 by Spain’s King Carlos III, the raffle is part of Lopez Obrador’s efforts to cast himself as a leader freeing the country from decades of graft.
Out of 6 million tickets offered, 100 winners can claim 20 million pesos each, or just under $1 million. By last week, only 70% of the tickets had been sold, but a flurry of last-minute interest led to long lines at lottery booths.
It was not immediately clear how many tickets were sold by the 2:00 p.m. (1900 GMT) cut-off, but smiling buyers crowded some booths in the capital and in the south of the country.
Lopez Obrador has promised that proceeds will go mainly toward chronically underfunded public hospitals. Authorities did not announce the names of the winners, which could include health clinics given hundreds of tickets by the government.
The prize money is partly funded by sales of confiscated property, including items taken from alleged drug traffickers. Critics say the event is an inefficient use of scarce funds that should instead be directly assigned in the budget.
Over the past week, government officials and allies have intensely marketed the 500 peso ($24) tickets. One government agency spent about $24 million on the event and some public workers complained they were obliged to take part.
(Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and David Gregorio)