Get to know the real millionaires

Big Ticket has been transforming people’s lives for three decades. The raffle winners — most of them expatriates — have been inspiring others to try their luck with their unique stories of charity, investment and achievement



by

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Sun 17 Jul 2022, 12:37 AM

Last updated: Mon 18 Jul 2022, 2:30 PM

Raffles have a way of telling stories. These are not just episodes of winning. They go deeper than that. They unravel human emotion. They reveal our deepest desires. As some of these stories show, a raffle win is a moment of truth. Some want to donate to charity, some want to rebuild their families, others want to invest in the future. Most want to simply help. Indeed, a lightning bolt of happiness changes everything. It awakens the heart.

Pakistani expatriate Shahid Mahmood was watching the India-Afghanistan match in the evening on TV on November 3 last year while his mind was occupied by a dream he saw a few days ago. Shahid was feeling listless about the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup game that was being played in Dubai because Afghanistan was losing the plot to India. It was around 8:20 pm and his mobile phone rang. Shahid, who belongs to Poonch in Kashmir and has been working for a glass installation company in Abu Dhabi since 2007, had a gut feeling that his dream to become a millionaire had come true as he answered the call.

The voice crackling on the phone on the other end was that of Richard, who has been the messenger behind transforming people’s lives since 2004 as an employee of Abu Dhabi Duty Free, which launched Big Ticket in 1992.

Shahid had bought the raffle (number 071808) — a ritual that he has been following assiduously since 2015 — on October 31 but was quietly confident that luck would smile on him this time around. “The previous night (October 31), I had a dream that I had won Dh15 million, and I was talking to Richard. I was going through my acceptance speech. Suddenly, I woke up and saw it was 3am. The next morning, I told my brother to purchase the ticket online,” Shahid recalled.

Richard announced Shahid’s name as the winner of Dh15 million, which he shared with his colleague Safeer Ahmed, who was away on vacation to Pakistan.

Shahid made some smart investments with Dh7.5 million that came his way. He shifted to Dubai last December and invested a portion of the booty in real estate back home and started a transport business. “It’s business as usual. My lifestyle has not undergone any change because of my new-found wealth. I continue to buy a raffle for Dh500, and the cost is split with Safeer. I never believed in buying more than one raffle (three can be bought for Dh1,000),” said Shahid, a father of four children, who was also a regular attendee to the monthly draw events, which unfortunately took a backseat after the Covid-19 pandemic struck two years ago.

Roy Jacob, a second-generation Indian expatriate, and an information technology professional, who has been living in Abu Dhabi since 1990, is a coordinator of a group of 12 friends, most of them colleagues, who buy monthly and weekly raffles. They have been pooling in money to purchase six raffles worth Dh2,000 for the past five years. Roy and his friends got lucky on May 1, on International Workers’ Day. He was overwhelmed when he received the news that he had won Dh300,000. “We continue to buy the raffles every month because it increases our chances of winning the grand prize. Perhaps, this is the only avenue for people in our salary bracket to think of an early retirement,” he said.

The raffle draw has become more innovative through the years. “Typically, my parents would buy a raffle at Abu Dhabi International Airport when they would travel on vacation back home once a year. But the advent of the internet has opened a brave new world. Usually, I set aside Dh300 every month to purchase raffles. I’ve always been praying for a life-altering moment,” said Roy, while reliving the ecstatic moment.

Similarly, Leena Jalal, who has been living in Abu Dhabi since 2018, won the jackpot on January 3, 2022. Leena, an HR professional at a construction company, won Dh22 million, which she shared with her 15 colleagues and friends. “I’ve made my mother proud. But my life hasn’t changed one bit since I won big money. I’d like to make a difference, just like Big Ticket. I’m in talks with local charities to donate a percentage of my winnings, while the remaining amount will go towards supporting my family back home in Thrissur, Kerala,” she said.

Big Ticket goes beyond geographies. The latest winner is Safwan Nizameddin, who hails from Saint Kitts and Nevis and is the first from the Caribbean. Safwan, who has been living in Abu Dhabi since 1978, has been purchasing raffles every month for the past two years. On July 3, when Richard called Safwan, he instinctively knew that he had won. “It could’ve been the worst possible prank as I shrieked in joy. For a moment, my wife said that somebody had pulled a fast one on me. I assured her I had won Dh15 million, as I’m familiar with Richard’s voice and I’m not done in by a prank call,” said Safwan, who works as an executive manager in a company specialising in power generation.

“Earlier, I used to buy the raffles regularly at the airport when I travelled abroad on work. But there was a lull in the past few years. I got into the groove when Covid-19 struck and was confined indoors. The prize money is for my wife, three children and a grandson, to make them feel happy and blessed,” said the proud man. He is planning to use his winnings to purchase properties as a future investment for his children. “I’d like to stay in the UAE. This country has given me a lot,” he added.

Shahed Ahmed Moulvifaiz, 55, a Bangladeshi car garage owner, won Dh10 million in April 2021. Shahed had moved to the UAE nearly 40 years ago — the then 15-year-old teenager from the port city of Chittagong overcame several obstacles before he could open his own car garage. Now, he lives in Al Ain with his 25-year-old son, where they run their family business. His wife and other children, who are aged between 15 and 26 years, live back home in Bangladesh.

“I got lucky after my relentless attempts since Big Ticket’s launch in 1992 when it was known as the Abu Dhabi Duty Free raffle. Perhaps, I’m one of the oldest customers of the draw. When Big Ticket’s representatives called to congratulate me on my win, I was overjoyed. The grand prize amount is like manna from heaven and would help me move the rest of my family to the UAE soon,” he said.

Kristine Bernardo, an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), won Dh1 million in June 2021, who works in Al Ain, split the prize money with her 14 colleagues. She has been a fan of Big Ticket for the past few years and would come together with her colleagues each month to pool their money to buy raffles. “It was my turn. So, I bought the ticket online on May 28, 2021 — days before the live draw was held. I received the news of my big win while I was out shopping. My eyes welled up with tears of joy,” Kristine reminisced.

“I could hardly believe I had won. The news finally sunk in when I received an email congratulating me. I saw my name posted on Big Ticket’s social media pages. I dedicate my win to my family and have wired a large sum for them,” she added.

Ahmed Alhamidi, 54, a Saudi national and a resident of Bahrain for the past five years, won Dh12 million in October 2020. Ahmed had purchased his winning ticket online and, at the time of his win, had been a Big Ticket customer for the last five years. When Richard called to share the exciting news of his win, Ahmed was on a dinner date with his family.

Ahmed, who runs a fast-food restaurant chain in Bahrain, has distributed some of his prize money among various family members (he has six sisters and two brothers). He has also invested a portion of his winnings in his restaurant chain, Patatia, which has branches across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ahmed has been donating to charities that help children of determination every year even before he came to riches. The father of three children, who are aged 22, 21, and 16 years, said the rest would go towards investing in their future.

Nidal Shanwar, 46, a dentist, who runs a clinic along with his partner, won Dh12 million in February 2020. The Syrian expatriate has been a resident of Al Ain for 16 years and, at the time of his big win, had been buying tickets with Big Ticket for seven months. Taking advantage of Big Ticket’s “buy two, get one free” offer, Nidal made his purchase on January 29 — just days before the live draw on February 3, where it was announced that one of his three tickets was the winning raffle number worth Dh12 million.

Nidal has used his winnings to expand his clinic and buy an apartment in the UAE for his family. He is also lending a helping hand to help his two younger brothers, who work in Abu Dhabi. He invested a portion of the prize money to start a second family business. His wife, who answered Richard’s call while Nidal was busy with a patient, said additional funds were sent to help their relatives back home in Syria.

The changemakers — draw host and co-hostess Richard and Bouchra — are thrilled to be transforming ordinary people’s lives.

“Every month, I learn about a new heartwarming story that revitalises the life-changing impact the cash prize has on the winner’s life. It is a reminder that Big Ticket is more than just a raffle draw, but a platform that champions true change. I feel so touched by the stories shared by today’s winners, and how they decided to share their winnings with others,” said Richard, a British national, who came to the UAE in 1999 to work for Debenhams, a United Kingdom-based departmental chain.

Bouchra, a Moroccan national, who joined Abu Dhabi Duty Free in 2014 and has been co-hosting the draw since 2019, said, “At Big Ticket we believe that the life-altering moments that happen on stage each month have the power to not only change the lives of our winners but also those around them. It is wonderful to see how winners instantly think of how they can enrich the lives of those around them. This is the ripple effect that Big Ticket has on the winners and their wider communities.”

This year alone, Big Ticket awarded 60 cash prize winners, whose winnings equate to a total prize value of over 110 million and the highest on offer is Dh25 million — that’s 25 times more since its launch 30 years ago.

More raffle wins mean more life-transforming stories. Beyond dreams and wins, raffles also depict the fight against odds. These are not lonely fights; they are well coordinated with friends and colleagues. It’s this collective effort that makes the raffle a congenial experience, not a chance encounter. It’s a moment worth teaming.


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