In the small coffee shop next to my house, occasionally in the afternoons, there would be the crying and pleading of Phuoc.
“Please buy some tickets for me,” Phuoc would cry and run around, hastily offering lottery tickets to everyone at the tables. That afternoon, a few customers bought some tickets without paying attention to the numbers. The old security guard of the shop and a taxi driver waiting for customers each bought 5 tickets.
But with more than 10 tickets still in hand, Phuoc continued to cry and run. The clock on the counter ticked towards 16:15, the time when Southern lottery companies start drawing. Unsold tickets are considered leftovers, which the seller has to bear.
The Ministry of Finance allows for the return of unsold lottery tickets within the day. However, the pressure of having their supply cut if they don’t sell all has led intermediaries to apply an “unwritten rule” forcing street vendors to bear leftover tickets, despite efforts by the Southern Lottery Council to combat this situation.
10 tickets cost 89,000 VND in capital, almost equal to Phuoc’s profit from running around the streets all day. Phuoc, over 10 years old and not attending school, was carried by his mother to sell lottery tickets since he was a newborn. For several years now, he has separated from his mother to sell on his own. Every day, he goes to the dealer to receive 120-150 tickets printed for the next day to sell.
Each ticket sold for 10,000 VND gives him a profit of 1,100 VND. If all are sold, Phuoc earns 132,000-165,000 VND per day, contributing 1.2-1.5 million VND to the revenue of issuing companies.
Luck does not come every day. On rainy days or when business is slow, Phuoc and his mother have to bear leftover tickets. The profit is not enough to cover capital costs, so they eat instant noodles instead of rice in their rented room. Meanwhile, the consumption rate of issued lottery tickets by companies still reaches 98-100%.
“When we get the tickets, the dealer warns us in advance that anyone who returns them will be cut off and not allowed to sell anymore,” explained his mother who has a leg disability. Therefore, when it’s close to drawing time, she will push the tickets onto her son and use their last resort – crying – aiming at people’s sympathy. She admits that it’s not a good thing but bearing leftover tickets a few times means losing capital; “just not being able to sell 5 tickets means we have to skip meals.”
Each southern province has 4,000-6,000 street lottery ticket sellers contributing to helping 21 lottery companies in this region achieve a revenue of 68.843 trillion VND in the first six months of this year – an increase of 16% compared to last year – with profits increasing by 25%. Therefore, the Southern Lottery Council has proposed that the Ministry of Finance allow an increase in issued ticket volume from October 1st.
In the first half of this year, Southern lottery companies contributed over 22 trillion VND to the budget – achieving 61% of their annual plan – one of few sectors with a profit growth of 10% amid such economic difficulties. Not making any money themselves, buyers increasingly rely on luck.
In addition to contributing funds to the budget, another positive aspect that must be acknowledged is that lottery companies have provided income opportunities for elderly people, children and disabled people… those who find it hard to find jobs in formal labor markets.
But why isn’t profit reporting by lottery companies entirely good news? Why does a proposal for increased sales volume give me an impression of indifference?
Because of fates like Phuoc and his mother.
Phuoc and his mother both view selling lottery tickets as their daily job and have been doing it for many years. They don’t have days off; only when they are “too sick to move do they stay home.”
However, over nearly ten years both mother and child have had to pay for their own medical expenses when sick; they don’t have health insurance or welfare benefits or contracts with anyone. The little they receive is commission on each ticket sold – just enough for basic food and rent.
Each southern province has between 4,000-6,000 street lottery ticket sellers contributing towards helping 21 lottery companies in this region achieve revenues of VND68.843 trillion in just six months – an increase of 16% compared with last year – with profits increasing by 25%. Therefore, The Southern Lottery Council has proposed that The Ministry of Finance allow an increase in issued ticket volume from October 1st.
The lottery ticket issuance rate reaches 98-100% achieved by not allowing peddlers to return unsold tickets, which is no different from forcing them to buy, pushing business risks to the disadvantaged.
Profits reach thousands of billions but the discount for peddlers is very low (1,000-1,200 VND per sheet), without any other benefits.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Finance allowed the Southern Lottery Council to increase issuance volume. 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.
This business expansion problem needs to be solved by managers in parallel with the social security problem. Accordingly, if lottery companies are allowed to increase the number of tickets issued, regulations on the percentage of commission paid to distribution channels, which were introduced nearly a decade ago according to the Circular of the Ministry of Finance, should be adjusted upwards.
Lottery sellers – most have health problems such as old age, disability, children – need to enjoy certain regimes, at least health insurance, to ensure survival when facing health risks.
If lottery is considered an industry, a super-profit business field then the work of lottery sellers needs to be formalized. Children are not allowed to participate. People of working age are covered by social insurance to ensure social security when they are old…
For decades, traditional lottery tickets have been associated with the slogan “benefit the country and benefit the family”. But have the negative impacts of lottery business been fully surveyed and researched?
If social security issues for the labor force participating in this industry are not resolved, then behind the easily visible benefits are lingering long-term social consequences.
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