Abu Dhabi resident Safwan Nizameddin’s wife thought her husband was being scammed when she heard his excitement during a phone call this week from Big Ticket organisers, who rang to tell him he'd won Dh15 million ($4.08m) in the monthly raffle draw.
Thankfully, that wasn't the case and it was a legitimate call.
That night of July 3 will never be forgotten by the couple: it was the moment their lives changed forever after Mr Nizameddin was crowned the sole winner of the Big Ticket grand prize. When the call came in, he says his sixth sense kicked in and he knew he had won.
The Saint Kitts and Nevis citizen, who is in his 60s and the executive director of an Abu Dhabi company specialising in power generation, has been buying the monthly raffle ticket for the past two years.
“I will use most of the prize money to buy properties in the UAE for my three children to secure their future,” says Mr Nizameddin, who already owns a property in Abu Dhabi.
“I believe in the investment potential of property. However, you have to choose a prime location and do your due diligence as some agents will try to attract you with false information.”
Big Ticket has been in operation since 1992 — with an initial top prize of Dh1m — and has grown in popularity over the years. Today, it is the longest-running monthly raffle draw for cash prizes and luxury cars in the GCC.
Over the course of the past three decades, the draw has helped change the lives of many of its winners with grand prizes of up to Dh25m. It has given away millions of dirhams worth of cash prizes and luxury cars over 30 years, a company statement says.
In July 2021, an Indian resident who worked as a taxi driver in Dubai for nearly a decade hit the Dh20m jackpot.
This year alone, Big Ticket, which costs Dh500 to enter, has rewarded 60 prize winners, whose winnings equate to more than Dh110m, the company says.
There are now numerous ways for residents to enter jackpot prize draws in the UAE, with new players entering the sector, including Mahzooz and Emirates Draw, which was launched in September last year.
Participants in Emirates Draw have to match seven numbers to win the mega prize of Dh100m, the largest on offer in the UAE. However, nobody has yet claimed the top prize.
The Mahzooz draw is held every Saturday at 9pm. Participants must register online and purchase a Dh35 bottle of water to enter. Its biggest winner to date is Junaid Rana, a Pakistani driver who scooped the Dh50m grand prize in October last year.
Mr Nizameddin, who has been in the UAE for 45 years, and his family will continue living in the Emirates and he has no plans to quit his job.
“Nothing will change," he says. "I will continue to donate to charity as this win has encouraged me to do more."
However, he will avoid investing in the stock market after previously losing money in equities. He also says that no wealth managers have been calling him yet to invest his windfall.
“Believe that one day will be your lucky day and lucky moment. Also, believe in God,” Mr Nizameddin says.
“It’s like paying for your monthly utility bill, make buying these tickets a regular commitment."
Meanwhile, Leena Jalal, an Indian HR professional, 30, who won Dh22m in the Big Ticket raffle draw in January, has so far splashed out only on a new Mazda car.
“I recently got my licence, so didn’t want to buy a flashy car,” the Abu Dhabi resident says. “I also donated money to deserving people.
“[I will] let the money remain in my bank for a while. Investment advisers and real estate brokers have been calling me but I haven’t decided as yet.”
However, Ms Jalal, who shared the prize money with 15 people, says it has not been an “easy journey” because some of her friends and relatives have been repeatedly asking her for money. She even had to briefly delete all her social media accounts because unknown people would message her seeking financial help.
Currently in talks with local charities to donate a percentage of her winnings, Ms Jalal says the remaining amount will go towards supporting her family back home in the Indian state of Kerala.
“I am happy that my future is secure and don’t have to depend on anybody,” says Ms Jalal, who’s been in the UAE since 2018. "This will help me ride out any difficult periods in life."
Although she has not quit her job, Ms Jalal says a few colleagues who won the jackpot with her have resigned.
Another Big Ticket winner, Shahid Mahmood, 35, used his Dh15m prize money to buy properties in his native Pakistan and invest more in his transportation business in Dubai.
The Abu Dhabi resident won the raffle draw in November last year and shared the winnings with a friend in Pakistan. He used to attend the monthly live draw event in person at Abu Dhabi International Airport until the Covid-19 pandemic started.
“It was a life-changing moment because it’s a huge amount for a working-class person,” says Mr Mahmood, who has bought tickets since 2015.
“Investing money in fixed deposits fetches you very poor returns, it’s better to invest in your business or property and see the capital grow.”
Mr Mahmood, who also donated part of his winnings to charity, says helping others is the best investment.
He did not quit his job at a glass installation company after the win because “it’s like a family business”.
Responding to a question about what the win has changed most, Mr Mahmood says: “You can afford a big car and a big house. Also, people’s behaviour towards you changes.”
Meanwhile, Jacob Roy, an Indian citizen living in Abu Dhabi since 1990 who won Dh300,000 in Big Ticket’s weekly raffle draw in April, is keen on buying a sports bike.
The IT professional, who split the winnings with 15 people, also allocated his money to savings accounts he has with National Bonds, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank’s Millionaire Destiny Savings Account and Mashreq Bank.
“I was contemplating buying a sports bike earlier, but didn’t do it considering the market situation,” he says. "However, this additional money will allow me to buy it now, although I could even afford it earlier."
UAE lottery winners — in pictures
Mr Roy advises raffle draw winners to avoid getting carried away and advised against quitting their jobs immediately. Instead, let the feeling sink in, he says.
“You need to participate in these raffle draws, so you stand a chance of winning, especially when you are going through a bad phase,” he says.
He continues to buy Big Ticket raffle tickets every month to keep increasing his chances of winning the grand prize.
In January 2016, the world’s biggest lottery win of $1.58 billion was split between three winners in the US Powerball jackpot.
However, the largest single win was in 2018, when an anonymous person from North Carolina in the US scooped $1.53bn in a Mega Millions game.
Ten ways to win cash prizes in the UAE
- Mahzooz draw (Previously Emirates Loto) — Dh10m
- Emirates Draw — Dh100m
- Big Ticket Abu Dhabi Duty Free draw — Dh15m
- Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire draw — $1m (Dh3.67m)
- ADIB Ghina Savings draw — Dh3m grand prize plus monthly prizes
- ADCB Millionaire Savings accounts — Dh1m grand prize plus monthly prizes
- Kunooz Savings Account — grand prizes of Dh1m and a Tesla
- FAB Al Awwal Savings Certificate — Dh1m yearly grand prize and Dh200,000 every quarter plus monthly prizes
- Mashreq Millionaire — Dh1m grand prize plus monthly prizes
- National Bonds Reward Programme — two Dh1m grand prizes every quarter plus monthly prizes