Greek firm tells Russians they gotta play to win

MOSCOW — MOSCOW -- A Greek company yesterday promised success where some of the world's most learned economists have failed -- giving every Russian the chance to be a millionaire.

Big-time lottery has come to Russia. Intracom, a Greek telecommunications company, is betting that its $20 million investment in a Russian lottery will pay off millions in the years to come.


Intracom has made its game yet more seductive by forming a partnership with Russia's cash-strapped Olympic Committee. Thirty percent of lottery revenues will go to support Russia's Olympians.

In the last few weeks, the new company has dotted Moscow with gleaming yellow and blue kiosks bearing the snappy Million Lotto logo. The kiosks shout for attention on the drab city streets, clean, sleek and just waiting to create millionaires.


A million rubles is only $2,717 these days, but it's still about 200 times the average monthly salary, and the prize could be many more millions, depending on the size of the betting pool.

"For many people, it will be the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams," said Socrates Kokkalis, president of Intracom.

And a chance costs only 10 rubles.

Igor Fyodorov, a 31-year-old cook, mused about winning the lottery as he walked past a lotto kiosk in central Moscow that was not yet open for business.

"A car," he said. "I would buy a car. Or maybe an apartment." He thought a moment longer. "No," he said, "I would buy an airplane ticket and leave this country."

"What do I have to lose?" shrugged Nadya, a 50-year-old engineer. "It's only 10 rubles."

Mr. Kokkalis and his company gave a press conference yesterday at the Russian Foreign Ministry's press center to talk about the lottery, which will create a new ruble millionaire in a television drawing every Thursday evening after the main news program.

There were lights -- flickering bright as Hollywood around two big yellow and blue Million Lotto signs that flanked the speakers. There were cameras -- all the television stations were there. And there were questions.


When rubles are decreasing in value every day, why would a Greek telecommunications company want to run a ruble lottery?

"The best investments in the world can be made right now in Russia," Mr. Kokkalis said.

He said his company would at first plow profits back into the lottery and later invest in telecommunications and electronics in Russia.

The 1,000 computerized kiosks in Moscow will be increased soon to 1,500. Next year, 3,000 more will be put up in St. Petersburg and cities along the Volga River. Within a few years, the company plans to have 8,500 kiosks, each equipped with computer terminals.

Eventually, Mr. Kokkalis said, he would like to have 35,000 selling points. "If Russians play the lottery even one-tenth as much as Greeks do, it could have revenues of $5 million a week," he said.

Mr. Kokkalis said 40 percent of revenues will go into the prize fund, for the weekly million-or-more ruble winner and other winners of smaller sums. His company will take 30 percent for upkeep, salaries and profit, and 30 percent will go to the Olympic committee, with one-fifth of that share allotted to the Moscow region.


The lottery actually began three weeks ago, but officials wanted to work out any bugs before the fanfare began. Markos Shiapanis, director of the lottery, said 5 million tickets already have been sold.

"It exceeded our expectations," he said.

The winners of the first two drawings, a woman and an 11-year-old boy, have insisted on remaining anonymous. Each won 4 million rubles. The organizers have been unable to persuade them to appear publicly and proclaim how great it is to be a millionaire.

Vitaly Smirnov, head of the Russian Olympic committee, said the committee expects to get at least one billion rubles a year from the lottery.

The money will help the committee set up a store in Moscow selling sports equipment -- which would be sold for dollars and help earn hard currency to support Olympic training programs.

This is not the nation's first lottery. Even under Communist rule, there was a lottery based on the outcome of sporting events. But the old games were clouded by accusations of corruption and had little of the razzmatazz of Million Lotto.


Intracom flew in 250 people from Athens yesterday: company officials, friends and 43 journalists for yesterday's big kickoff.

"For Greece to export high technology is an important affair," said Stathis Haikalis, a reporter for an Athens Sunday paper. Intracom officials say Million Lotto may well become the world's biggest game. So far, its organizers have had only one problem: in public relations. They have had to promise that the money will be handed over in secret and that the names of the winners will not be publicized.

Winners are afraid of being robbed, or overwhelmed by jealousy.