The Chinese love to gamble. Always have done. Keno, the Las Vegas lottery game, is thought to have been invented in China 3,000 years ago. Blackjack and Poker are also cousins of ancient Chinese card games.
Since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, however, gambling has been officially frowned upon. Gambling, according to the Communists, goes hand in hand with organised crime and general moral degradation.
The State Lottery, however, is ok. And ticket sales are rising rapidly. From January to March, the lottery had revenues of 34.62 billion yuan ($5.07 billion), a rise of almost 25% year-on-year. At this rate, the lottery will have doubled in size in under four years.
The two games, the Sports Lottery, which benefits China’s sports infrastructure, and the Welfare Lottery, both saw an equal rise in sales.
What’s interesting is that it looks like the State Lottery is succeeding in winning over customers from the illegal gaming market, which is estimated by the Ministry of Finance to be around 300 billion yuan a year.
For the past few years, the government has been determined to make gameplay more interesting, and have been handing out increasingly valuable prizes. A man from Changchun recently won 32 million yuan or so. (He turned up in dark glasses and a balaclava and confessed he hadn’t even told his family.)
That sort of prize encourages other players, and rules in Hainan on lottery betting have been relaxed and new games introduced. My assistant speculated that more people are betting on the lottery because of the soaring price of property, which has left many people unable to ever afford to buy a house without a major windfall.
But perhaps it is also worth pointing out that playing the stock market, one of the best ways of gambling in China, took a heavy tumble between January and mid-February, with the index in Shanghai dropping from nearly 3,300 points to just over 2,800 points.