The book entitled ‘The Greatest Bleeding Heart Racket in the World” by author Damian Corless went on sale in Ireland this weekend.Set up to allegedly help rundown Irish hospitals the proceeds instead went to a small group of wealthy Irish men led by businessman Joe McGrath while the government turned a blind eye .
At its height millions of tickets were sold yearly worldwide at a time when lottery gambling was banned almost everywhere.
In America a network of old IRA men sold the tickets and collected the proceeds.
The Irish Sweepstakes became known world wide. Hollywood made several movies with the sweepstakes theme including the MGM hit “The Winning Ticket.”
The new HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” mentions the Irish Sweepstakes in its second episode.
Winning ticket numbers were printed in newspapers worldwide and 4,000 people were employed in the scheme in Ireland. It was by far the biggest employer in the state at the time.
The winners received up to $500,000 if their ticket matched the winner of a major Irish horse race such as the Irish Derby, a fortune in those days.
Newspapers ran special editions carrying the draw results. Despite the best efforts of American and British authorities to ban it the lottery sales proceeds somehow got through to Ireland.
McGrath helped start up Waterford Glass and the Irish Glass and Bottling Company with the proceeds. He threatened to lay off the 4,000 workers if the Irish government shut him down and he always got his way.
Fortune Magazine described it as "a private company run for profit and its handful of stockholders have used their earnings from the sweepstakes to build a group of industrial enterprises that loom quite large in the modest Irish economy. Waterford Glass, Irish Glass Bottle Company and many other new Irish companies were financed by money from this enterprise and up to 5,000 people were given jobs."
But the legalisation of gambling in the US in the 1960s was the beginning of the end for the Irish Sweepstakes and in 1987 when the the promoters failed to win the bid for the new Irish national lottery the sweeps stakes disappeared.