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Lotteries resurface in Venezuela with attractive prizes in dollars

William Goitía moves among the cars waving a fan of lottery tickets that he sells to drivers in Caracas. The biggest prize: half a million dollars.

At least three large lotteries have reappeared in Venezuela in the last year and a half, driven by an informal dollarization that the government allowed as an escape valve in the face of the acute crisis.

Playing lottery is part of the DNA of the Venezuelan and for decades raffles were held that distributed millionaire prizes in bolivars. Even the late former president Hugo Chávez left them untouched when he banned casinos and bingo halls in 2011. But the local currency ended up shattered by hyperinflation, making those prizes less attractive.

Offering “a fat man” in dollars was unthinkable, even illegal. With the relaxation in 2018 of a strict exchange control, things took a turn. The Triple Gordo, which Goitía sells, today has a prize of 500,000 dollars for 5 a ticket. “We really have quite high sales,” this 55-year-old graphic designer, a seller for six months, told AFP.

Gordo, relaunched on January 1, 2022, this year the Kino Táchira also returned, which became the most popular draw in the country and this week has an accumulated jackpot of $750,000. The Kino, at its peak, came to distribute the equivalent of 2 million dollars in 1998. These are prizes that are small compared to other lotteries in the world that deliver hundreds of millions of dollars, but in Venezuela, where salaries rarely exceed 100 dollars, 500,000 is a fortune that allows one to dream.

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The atmosphere is frantic in the television studio: the balls are in the machine, the lights come on and the animators take a deep breath. It is the first transmission of “La Bola Loca”, from the Zulia Lottery, which distributes “half stick”, 500,000 dollars. explains Merlín Rodríguez, president of this lottery dependent on the government of that oil state (west), badly hit by the crisis.

“This sector is growing without a doubt,” continues Rodríguez, with national -private and public- and foreign investments. The crisis massively reduced ticket sales points -90% in Zulia, according to Rodríguez- and the operators opted for methods ranging from home delivery to courier services.

“Before, there were more than 80,000 sales points in Venezuela (. ..) and now there aren’t even 2,000”, explains Ricardo Bravo Vargas, a businessman linked to the entertainment industry who has another lottery game on the horizon in Cojedes (central west). “The digital model is imposed, because everyone, or almost all of us have a cell phone. They go to buy, to play and to charge for the cell phone”, he continues.

“The resurgence of this industry linked to games is proportional to the crisis”, he adds. exhaust to lower pressure. Haiti is an example, a country with such great poverty and an average of 3 million dollars is gambled there every day. And since the pandemic this has gotten worse, not only in Venezuela but throughout the world,” remarks the businessman.

The economy has again shown signs of stagnation in 2023 after breaking almost eight years of recession in 2022; but dollarization remains firm and it is a “central element” of this resurgence of lotteries, estimates the economist Asdrúbal Oliveros. “The currency in circulation is much greater than the currency in bolivars. It is obvious that these prizes are dollarized” and “in terms of dollars they can be significant,” explains Oliveros. It is common in Venezuela for regional governments, such as Zulia, to run lotteries, administered by the government of that state, and the Triple Gordo of the Lottery of Oriente, Monagas (east).

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Thus, according to Oliveros, the raffles serve as “alternate sources of income” as the budget allocations from the central government decrease due to lack of cash.

“I make my move”

Nobody took half a million in the first draw of “La Bola Loca”, which had some 3,200 winners of minor prizes. In the study is Franyerlis Diaz, 26 years old, who won $1,000 in a previous parallel raffle carried out on social networks. He can’t stop laughing as he receives an envelope with cash.

“I grew up in that world of the lottery,” he recalls. “I gave my dad little cards saying ‘I love you dad ‘ and on the back what he had written down was (draw numbers of) Chance A, Chance B, and how much he was going to play.”

The tradition continues with street vendors like Goitía, who earns $60 for every 100 tickets sold. Goitía says that in a good week can pocket between 80 and 100 dollars, 20 times the monthly minimum salary, which covers the basics of his family.

And when he catches up with him, he plays. “I also risk, I play trying my luck,” he says. “I have won 100, 200 and some dollars.” But his dream, of course, is the biggest prize.

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