They were once found everywhere around the city. Tickets to the Singapore Sweep used to be strung across the counter of mamak shops (local convenience stores), neatly lined up on the tables of newspaper vendors and even peddled at the hawker centres by enterprising individuals. For a dollar, and eventually, three dollars, these slips of paper offered anyone a small chance to hit the jackpot. This monthly lottery, organised by the Singapore Pools since 1969, was one of the earliest forms of legalised gambling in the country. It was also its most visible—coming in eye- catching designs that even became a collector’s item.
This colourful chapter of the national lottery ended in July 2018, when the Singapore Pools began printing its tickets in the form of receipts like the company’s other popular lotteries, such as 4D and Toto. We look back at the Singapore Sweep’s design history to discover how its tickets were not just about form but function too.
1969: Singapore Sweep Goes National
Establishing a legalised national lottery was a controversial decision in 1960s Singapore as some feared it would encourage gambling. But the practical need to bring in revenue for the young nation and stamp out illegal gambling eventually outweighed this concern. In 1966, the Singapore Turf Club started a “Singapore Sweep” to raise funds for charitable causes. After the government established the Singapore Pools as its national lottery operator in 1968, the Singapore Sweep became part of this new organisation’s plan to raise funds for the construction of the country’s first national stadium. This is why a model of it featured prominently on this ticket printed for the lottery that was held on 28 February 1969.
1970: Securing the Singapore Sweep
The tickets featured the National Stadium until its completion in 1973. The lottery contributed S$14.5 million, about half of the total construction bill. During this period, the tickets also became more secure by design. Singapore Pools worked with security printers such as Thomas de la Rue, which is famous for printing currencies across the world, to implement features that made the ticket difficult to counterfeit. For instance, the left edge of this 1971 ticket contains a pattern that lines up with the counterfoil, a part of the ticket that is torn and retained by Singapore Pools. The seemingly random strands across this ticket are also nylon fibres embedded within the paper, a printing material that was not readily available.
1974: Rising Fortunes
With the completion of the National Stadium, the ticket simply featured the essentials, including its ticket number, cost and details of the lottery. These were printed over highly intricate patterns that made forgery challenging. For instance, those who tried to use a pen knife to scrape off the ticket number had to replicate the many lines surrounding them. In addition, the tickets came in different colours every month. These security designs inevitably made the tickets fascinating to scrutinise. What also caught the eye of many during this period was the increased ticket price and prize money—now at a million dollars!
1988: More than Meets the Eye
From March 1988, the ticket began featuring imagery. At first, these were illustrations to commemorate the country’s efforts to clean up the Singapore River and its waterbodies. Over the next decade, orchids, fishes, birds and the cityscape appeared as the tickets began taking on annual design themes.
This makeover was partly to boost the sales of the Singapore Sweep which became overshadowed by the Toto draw as well as the introduction of 4D in 1986. It also allowed for updated security features that only showed up upon close inspection. A Singapore
Pools logo can only be seen under ultra-violet light, while in the backgrounds of some tickets, “The Singapore Sweep” was repeated in micro-lettering and some were intentionally misprinted to fool counterfeiters.
In 1996, the Singapore Sweep again raised its top prize, this time to S$1.5 million because the Singapore Pools received feedback from the public that “nowadays, one million doesn’t get you very far”.
1998: Pooling for a City of the Arts
The ticket was redesigned to promote and support the construction of the nation’s new performing arts centre, The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. New security features were also added. For instance, the draw number and the ticket number were embossed to allow for computer validation, as the Singapore Pools began supporting its staff with another pair of “eyes” in the never-ending fight against counterfeiters and forgers.
2002: The Winning Ticket
Entering the millennium, the ticket began looking less intricate partly because its security designs were increasingly overseen by computers. But this opened up space for even more colourful and extravagant designs. The prize money was also increased again—to S$2 million in 2004 and S$2.3 million in 2013.
A standout design of this period was a 2017 series featuring art works from the National Gallery Singapore, an arts institution that also benefitted from the Singapore Pools funding. While the lottery operator has since stopped printing thematically- designed tickets, the Singapore Sweep is still available on-demand and comes in the form of a receipt like the 4D and Toto. After all, what really matters to punters is that their ticket contains the winning numbers!