Lottery makes super profits, but not for vendors

August 2, 2023 | 05:00 pm PT
Le Tuyet Journalist
"Please buy some of my tickets," the young boy named Phuoc pleaded sobbingly as he shuffled between tables of the coffee shop, grasping a clutch of lottery tickets.

I live next to the shop in Saigon, and I often see him in this routine in the afternoons, minutes before the lottery results are announced, when the tickets in his hands will become worthless.

That afternoon, a few customers helped buy a few tickets without even bothering to check the numbers.

With more than 10 tickets left in his hand, Phuoc continued to rush to other shops.

Although the Ministry of Finance rules that lottery street vendors like Phuoc can return unsold tickets to their dealers at the end of the day, the dealers make their own rule of cutting off any vendors who return unsold tickets. Vendors who want to stay in the business are thus forced to try to sell all their tickets or cover the cost for any unsold ones.

Phuoc pays VND8,900 (US$0.38) to his dealer for each ticket, which he sells to customers for VND10,000. For 10 unsold tickets that day, Phuoc would have to bear the cost of VND89,000, nearly equal the profit he had earned from an entire day of roaming the streets.

Phuoc is just more than 10 years old. He does not go to school. His mother, also a lottery ticket vendor, has carried him along her route since he was born. A few years ago, he started selling tickets on his own.

Every day, he receives 120-150 tickets from his dealer. If he can sell all of them, he earns VND132,000-165,000.

But such luck doesn't come every day. When Phuoc and his mother can't sell all their tickets, they eat a simple bowl of instant noodles for dinner.

A man buys lottery tickets from a boy on a street in southern Ca Mau Province. Photo by VnExpress/An Minh

A man buys lottery tickets from a boy on a street in southern Ca Mau Province. Photo by VnExpress/An Minh

Meanwhile, the sales rate of lottery ticket issuance companies still reaches 98-100%.

"When I joined the business, the dealer had said whoever returned unsold tickets would be cut off and could not sell tickets anymore," said the mother, who has a leg defect.

So, whenever it comes to the last minutes, she pushes unsold tickets on her son and makes him do tricks to make people buy out of pity.

She admits that she is not proud of this, but keeping the tickets is even worse: "We will have to skip dinner," she said.

Each southern province has 4,000-6,000 people selling lottery tickets on the street, contributing to helping 21 lottery companies in the region earn VND68,843 billion (US$2.9 billion) in revenues in the first six months of the year. That's an increase of 16% over the same period last year, which resulted in a 25% increase in profit. The lottery was one of the few sectors that recorded positive gains over the tough economic period as more and more people hoped for good luck.

The Southern Regional Lottery Council therefore proposed to the Ministry of Finance to increase the number of tickets issued from October 1.

Southern lottery companies contributed more than VND22 trillion to the state budget in the first half. They helped create jobs for the elderly and those with disabilities, as well as poor children.

But their successful business is not a big bright picture for everyone. There are still dark corners with people like Phuoc and his mother.

Phuoc and his mother both consider selling lottery tickets their profession. They do not have days off, only when they are "unbearably sick."

For nearly 10 years, they have been doing the job with no contracts, no benefits, and no guarantee for their future.

All they get is the VND1,100 commission on each ticket, enough for basic needs such as simple meals and rent.

While lottery companies enjoy the sale rates of 98-100%, it is people like Phuoc and their mother, the vulnerable, who directly bear the business risk.

If the number of tickets issued continues to increase, there will be more boys like Phuoc: not going to school but selling lottery tickets to help their parents.

If lottery companies are allowed to increase the number of tickets issued, they should be required to do so with more obligations.

They need to give street vendors a bigger commission. They need to give them certain benefits.

If the lottery is a super-profitable industry, the lottery ticket seller profession needs to be formalized. Children must not be allowed to participate. The sellers must be entitled to health insurance, and those of working age must be able to pay into social insurance to ensure they get pensions later.

For decades, lottery ticket promotions have used the slogan: "benefiting the country and benefiting families." But the business's negative effects have rarely been dealt with.

If the welfare issues facing the workers in this industry are not resolved, there will be long-term social consequences.

*Le Tuyet is a journalist.

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