When the Mark Six pool edged up to $55 million last month, I grabbed a clutch of tickets. Instead of merely handing over $100 for five quick-pick selections and letting the computer do the work, I pitted my brains against the system. The system, of course, won. Combining family birthdays, lucky numbers, anniversaries, auspicious dates (five and 11 for the Fifth of November, Guy Fawkes Day) and the ages of the three lady bartenders (23, 33 and 42), I completed formidable selections. This intellectual struggle came to nought. To my surprise, I did not have to go to the betting shop and collect $55 million; next day it was work as usual. It's a fair chance, however, that someone hit it lucky and doesn't realise it. Last season there were 128 Mark Six draws with happy optimists buying 318.8 million tickets, pushing turnover to $5,860 million. So far this season, punters have bought 178 million tickets in 72 draws, investing $3,175 million. The lucky few with the right numbers collected $3,164 million last year and so far this season have pocketed $1,513 million. To my stunned amazement, I find that $83 million worth of winning prizes from last year have not been claimed. This discovery came after I put on a seldom-worn coat during a cold spell. In the pocket were three $20 banknotes and five Mark Six tickets. 'Ah hah!' thinks I. 'Fate is smiling.' Down I trotted to the betting centre, hope soaring, imagination doing handstands. What would I do with all this money? Disillusion swiftly sent aspirations crashing. The lady took one look and handed the tickets back. 'No good,' she said. 'Too old.' She explained prizes have to be collected within 60 days of the draw. If you turn up after that with a genuine winning ticket, well, that's your bad luck. Checking with the Jockey Club, I find the rules are inflexible. Nobody seems to keep track of the individual uncollected prizes; they could include mammoth multi-million payouts or thousands of smaller bonuses. After the 60 days have elapsed all money from unclaimed winning tickets gets poured into the next Mark Six Snowball Pool. It goes to first prize winners at draws held to mark special festive occasions. In all the years I have been spasmodically having a flutter on the Mark Six, I have collected a total of about seven $20 prizes. What would happen if a miracle struck and I scored a major prize? On past form, this seems unlikely but just in case, I asked the Jockey Club officials. If your winning ticket pays out less than $1 million, you simply stroll into any off-course centre, hand it over and walk out with the cash. You are then, presumably, knocked over the head by a heavily-tattooed gentleman who relieves you of the money. Winnings up to $5 million have to be collected at Jockey Club headquarters in Happy Valley. For mega-prizes of more than $5 million, the lucky winner must register at the club, show their ID card and produce the winning ticket. Payment is made after the ticket is verified. Despite the constant laments of various well-meaning but wrong-headed anti-gambling groups, the Mark Six is no social cancer eating away at the bowels of society. People don't gamble the family food money on what everyone realises is a game of chance with extremely long odds; winning is obviously more than a million-to-one chance. What happens to the cash that flows into club coffers? Most of it flows right on out again. More than half (54 per cent) is paid in winnings. The government is quick to whack out 25 per cent as duty and 15 per cent goes into the Lotteries Fund for charities. The club takes 6 per cent as commission to cover expenses in running the popular draw. Incidentally, the Lotteries Fund is run by the Social Welfare Department and pays for projects that help to rehabilitate the disabled, aid the elderly, care for needy families and run services for social welfare support, youth and the general community. So that's about $850 million a year in savings to the taxpayer. Since the first Mark Six was drawn amid great enthusiasm in 1975, $8 billion has gone to good works. Doesn't that make you feel nice when you hand over your $20 for a Mark Six ticket? Even if you don't collect a dividend, needy members of the community are winners.