The Irish Government established a lottery called the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in 1930. The aim was to provide funds for investment in hospitals and medical services. The lottery was established under the 1930 Public Charitable Hospitals (Temporary Provisions) Act.
The lottery, which became commonly known as The Irish Sweeps, was organised by Richard Duggan, Joe McGrath and Captain Spencer Freeman. Richard Duggan was a Dublin bookmaker who had previously organised lotteries. Joe McGrath was a former government minister and Captain Spencer Freeman was an engineer from Wales who had served in the British army. Together they established a private trust to run the lottery and market tickets in Ireland and around the world. Ticket stubs were returned to Dublin where the draw was held. At first the draw was held in the Mansion House but it was moved to a location in Ballsbridge in 1940. The Sweepstake ran for 56 years, raised millions for Ireland’s health infrastructure and made the three organisers very wealthy.
When the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake was established it was the only legal sweepstake in the world. Ticket sales were initially confined to Ireland but it was soon realised that a lot of profits could be generated by selling tickets abroad. Though it was illegal to sell sweepstake tickets in Britain, the number of tickets sold there increased rapidly. The amount of money being invested in the Irish Sweepstake by British citizens led to the passing of the Betting and Lotteries Act in 1934. The act together with the later introduction of football pools led to a decline in sales in Britain.
As ticket sales declined in Britain the number of tickets being sold in North America increased dramatically. They were smuggled in and sold illegally in both the Unites States and Canada. By the late 1950’s almost eighty percent of all sweepstake tickets were being sold there. By the 1960’s lotteries had begun to be legalised in the United States. This led to a decline in the sale of tickets for the Irish Sweepstake. The final Sweepstake prize draw was held in 1986, the same year the Irish National Lottery was established. The first Sweepstake prize of £208,792 was won by three people from Belfast. Mr. J. G. Prescott, a civil servant, shared his winning ticket with Belfast barmen Mr. J Torney and F. Ward.
The first Irish Hospitals Sweepstake draw was held in the year 1930 On This Day.
Irish Hospital’s Sweepstake on the 1963 Grand National Booklet
1960 Irish Sweepstakes Horse Race – Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake Derby Acknowledgement Form For Sales of Irish Sweepstakes Tickets