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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pay Your Bill, Win a Prize

Demonized each winter for combating debtors with deadly blackouts, the Primorye region's electricity monopoly Dalenergo gambled on a game show to improve its image and bottom line -- and won.

And so did dozens of its customers, including a woman named Olga Senko, who is now the proud owner of a new Honda.

It all began in March, when the Vladivostok-based utility, tired of chronic nonpayments, decided to launch a lottery.

To be eligible to win, all the people of Vladivostok had to do was pay their heating and electricity bills.

Dalenergo spokesman Mikhail Tsedrik said by telephone Wednesday that the company spent 1 million rubles ($33,000) advertising and organizing the lottery, including buying 39 prizes, but its collection rate soared in response.

"Our gain was 8 million rubles, so the effect is obvious and we will continue doing it," Tsedrik said.

In addition to the car, the company gave away a home cinema system, a television, a washing machine, a refrigerator and several vacuum cleaners, kettles and car radios.

Tsedrik said the lottery was held on a local television station Wednesday and featured two large containers -- one for the names of the prizes and the other for the names of all Vladivostok residents of voting age, excluding "the wealthy, energy company employees and city officials."

Adding to the drama, the host selected a winner and then ceremoniously checked a computer database to see if he or she owed Dalenergo any money.

"Each time we had to reselect a

resident five or six times until we

found one who had no debts to Dalenergo," Tsedrik said. However, Senko,

the grand-prize winner, was found on the first try.

According to Tsedrik, about 50 percent of the city's residents owe the utility money.

Tselko said that Dalenergo is going to hold another lottery in

February that everyone in the region, not just Vladivostok, will be eligible to enter.

Two other loss-making utilities, Chitaenergo and Murmanskenergo, have held lotteries similar to Dalenergo's.