The Economics of the Thai Lottery
The street vendor carting around a brown wooden box full of lotto tickets strapped to a bicycle is an image synonymous with Thai street trade.
But despite the popularity of the Thai lottery, these traders face a battle to make ends meet. A battle many traders are losing.
When Thailand’s military government took power in May 2014, lottery reform was one of many topics on their agenda.
All Thai lottery tickets are sold in pairs with the same numbers repeated, meaning that any prize you win is effectively doubled.
A standard lottery ticket pair was supposed to cost ฿80, but you’d have been searching a long time to find one at the retail rate with many being hawked for as high as ฿120.
From last summer, it was mandated that the price of a ticket pair be capped at ฿80, with fines threatened against any vendors caught inflating prices.
The concept of a lottery ticket with a variable price may be foreign to some, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those living in Thailand.
Here, the most basic market goods are subject to negotiation. A lottery ticket sold on the street was no different.
The going rate for a pair used to be ฿100 outside major supermarkets.
A street vendor might try for ฿110-120 baht.
The famous Thai superstition was monetised with premium prices demanded for tickets that contained what the locals might consider to be ‘lucky numbers’.
In turn, the tickets that contained ‘unlucky numbers’ would be subject to a discount. Perhaps ฿85-90 baht. A rare slashing at the coffers to get cursed numbers out of the brown suitcase.
Indeed, for many years, the best chance a foreigner had of catching a fair lottery price was to pursue tickets with numbers that an ordinary Thai wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.
The number superstition continues today, even after the crackdown; just without the mark-ups in price.
How Thais Choose Lottery Numbers
It is often said in Thai culture that tragedy precedes good fortune.
Perhaps this explains why some Thais can be found perusing the license plate numbers of recently crashed vehicles, or the highway numbers where accidents have occurred.
There is no event too morbid for hunting a number that is about to come good.
Another unlikely source of cosmic guidance is the shrine of Mae Nak, one of Thailand’s most famous ghosts, a young woman who died in childbirth.
Head to her shrine on Sukhumvit Soi 77 and you will find a small crowd asking Mae Nak for her divine intervention: for guidance in a tough decision, for help in an exam, for a boost of fertility.
But also for winning lottery numbers.
Next to Mae Nak’s shrine lies a small clay jar full of numbered ping pong balls.
From this pot, if you are lucky, the numbers will guide you to lottery fortune.
And if you’re not?
Hey, maybe somebody else was luckier.
Lucky Thai Numbers
You don’t have to travel to a ghostly shrine to find lucky numbers: many Thais prefer to draw on their dreams or messages from the cosmos disguised in seemingly ordinary events to choose their numbers.
For instance, the following sights have been known to spur the choice of certain lottery numbers:
- A cat with four spots
- A figure in the tree bark
- A sighting of a rat (linked to number 1)
- A large snake (number 5)
- A small snake (number 6)
- The registration plate numbers on Yingluck Shinawatra’s car (when she was in office)
- “The number just came to me…”
The capacity to calculate short odds for numbers marked by life’s oddities knows no bounds.
This writer recalls his own grandfather taking a slightly more pragmatic approach to the UK lottery.
Of the six numbers between 1-49, for twenty years without fail, he would choose:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
“Same odds,” he’d insist, to no avail. The old bugger never won.
His was a poor choice… regardless of the odds.
Even if he’d won, he’d have had to share the prize with 10,000 other punters who took the same distinctly less spiritual approach to numbers and fate.
Well, there’s no such risk with the Thai Lottery…
One of the quirks of the Thai Lottery is the way that tickets are pre-printed and sold in fixed batches.