China running short of lottery tickets as youth try their luck amid shaky economy

Seeking a way to de-stress and have fun amid China’s economic doldrums, cross-border e-commerce sector worker Michelle Zhang bought scratch cards every weekend.

The 24-year-old had won as much as 500 yuan (US$68.3) from just a 20 yuan ticket, but recently found many dedicated lottery ticket stores in Guangzhou – a major southern city – had run out of stock.

In mid-June she visited three stores before finding any tickets, with the same scene replicated in the likes of Beijing and the well-off eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang since April.

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“When I wanted to buy it these days, many stores were out of stock,” she said.

Gambling in China is generally banned apart from the China Sports Lottery and China Welfare Lottery – both of which have traditional lotteries that involve selecting numbers and buying scratch cards – and throughout China, the gua gua le instant lottery scheme is seen by many young people as a short cut to wealth.

“When the economy slows down, the lottery may move forward,” Su Guojing, founder of the non-governmental trade organisation China Lottery Industry Salon, said in an interview with the website of state broadcaster CCTV.

There might be people who, for economic reasons, participate to relieve stress
Zhao Xijun, Renmin University

In the first quarter, sales from all types of nationwide lotteries exceeded 149.5 billion yuan (US$20.6 billion), representing an increase of 19.7 per cent year on year, according to the Ministry of Finance.

Gua gua le sales accounted for 26.1 per cent of the total, representing a 81.4 per cent year on year increase.

In comparison, in the first quarter, national general budget revenue stood at 6.1 trillion yuan, representing a year-on-year decline of 2.3 per cent.

As of 2022, central and local governments had divided lottery proceeds equally, including income from gua gua le.

The ministry did not answer a request for information on the number of stores that had run out of tickets.

“The price per ticket is not high and the prizes aren’t big either. It makes people happy. It’s entertainment,” said Zhao Xijun, a finance professor at Renmin University in Beijing.

“There might be people who, for economic reasons, participate to relieve stress.”

Overall, China has been grappling with an uneven post-pandemic economic recovery, marked by hesitant consumption, a property crisis and high youth unemployment.

Used as gifts, including flower bouquets, and often featured on social media, lottery tickets have gained popularity among young people in recent years, with influencers posting images of especially large prizes.

In March, a post on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo by news aggregator garnered 53.5 million views after it claimed workers were able to use lottery tickets to clock in.

“I saw everyone scratching, so I scratched,” said 22-year-old teacher Men Yuxian from Hefei in the southeastern Anhui province, who had bought a ticket every two to three weeks.

“In the end, my luck was pretty good, so I’d get a ticket every so often.”

Michelle Zhang won 500 yuan (US$68.3) from a 20 yuan ticket in December. Photo: Michelle Zhang

But amid the scarcity of gua gua le tickets, it takes Men longer to find tickets.

“I don’t have the mood to go buy them any more,” she added.

In the past 10 years, the lottery industry in China has shown significant growth, and last year the number of lottery-linked companies increased by 4,512 from 2022 – the highest growth rate in a decade, according to CCTV, citing Chinese company data provider Tianyancha.

And in the first four months of 2024, 2,105 lottery-related companies registered in China, representing a year-on-year increase of 158.92 per cent.

China has registered a total of 14,700 lottery-related companies, across the supply chain from printers to distributors and retailers, CCTV’s website reported in May.

But some lottery retailers are facing challenges due to the stock shortages of the gua gua le tickets, leading to a decline in revenues and operational difficulties, some social media accounts said this month.

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