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Fortune doesn't smile on Vietnam’s lottery ticket vendors

State-run Southern Lottery Council in Vietnam is increasing profit while sellers toil, even in the middle of the night
Ly Van Phuong scouts for the next lucky star on a street in Ho Chi Minh City in the night.

Ly Van Phuong scouts for the next lucky star on a street in Ho Chi Minh City in the night. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: August 21, 2023 11:23 AM GMT

Ly Van Phuong does not mind trying his luck late at night because the lottery tickets he sells can make a massive difference in somebody’s life. Day or night without exception.

Phuong covers 10 kilometers per day irrespective of whether it is hot or rainy, because he has to sell 300 tickets to earn 300,000 dong (US$13) before the results of the game of numbers are announced between 16:15 and 16:35.

“I work hard on weekends but many a time fail to sell out the tickets and have to pay for the unsold,” he told UCA News.

“I am not allowed to return the unsold tickets to the outlet,” he bemoaned.

Many of his acquaintances have lost all their savings and altogether quit selling tickets due to unsold stock — a tragic fate that Phuong tries to stave off with his nocturnal endeavors.

Despite being physically handicapped, Phuong took up selling lottery tickets last year in Ho Chi Minh City, home to 10 million people, and last month, a benefactor gifted him a wheelchair, costing 4 million dong.

The 41-year-old father of two, a victim of polio during childhood, said, “My efforts came to nothing last Saturday [Aug. 12]. I had to ‘buy’ 43 unsold tickets for 387,000 dong.”

He said it is grossly unfair on the part of agents to refuse to buy back the unsold tickets. It puts a burden on sellers who need to support their families after they were shown the door by companies they previously worked for, he lamented.

Though the law mandates lottery companies buy back unsold tickets, it is not standard practice.

There exists an unwritten understanding that agents who return unsold tickets will be given less commission and fewer tickets to sell, because they are not competitive sellers. 

As a result, the sellers do not want the tag of being called mediocre and their 10 percent commission cut.

There are 21 lottery firms in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest commercial city in the Communist-led nation, and another 20 in southern provinces. All of them, managed by the state-owned Southern Lottery Council are, in fact, doing a brisk business at the expense of sellers.

The council in July declared a combined profit of 8,800 billion dong (US$376 million) during the first six months of this year, posting 10.4 percent growth year-on-year.

In the southern provinces alone, 4,000-6,000 people hawk lottery tickets to eke out a living. Their number is much higher in the country’s nerve center, Ho Chi Minh City.

Earlier, it was mostly children, women, elderly people, and those with physical disabilities. However, giving them competition now are youngsters axed from their professional jobs due to the country's economic recession.

With 1-2 million dong in their pocket, anyone can be an agent for the numbers game which costs 10,000 dong per ticket.

Anna Nguyen Thi Trinh, in her early 40s, turned to hawking lottery tickets to support her four-member family early this year as new jobs were difficult to come by. 

"I walk many kilometers daily in the hot sun and return home on tired legs," she said, adding that she hawks at coffee houses, bistros, parks, and public places and on streets.

Many vendors face the risk of being robbed, threatening their precious life. Their age, gender, physical conditions, and economic plight make them an easy target as they possess a lot of cash in their hands at any given time.

In 2021, Vu Dinh Ngoc, 68, was killed after being robbed of all his takings while selling tickets on a bicycle. His body was later found in a rice field.

Phuong said a woman under the pretext of buying tickets ran off with 120 of them last week. 

In July, a fraudster exchanged fake tickets, Phuong said.

“I have lost more than 5 million dong in fake ticket scams, so far," he said in a low voice.

Phuong said he and his wife, a cleaner at a local bistro, have to send money back home to support their parents and children in the northern province of Bac Giang.

Many buy lottery tickets from me out of generosity, Phuong added.

Joseph Dinh Thien Dam, a driver, said he has been buying up to 10 tickets daily but has never won.

“Some people have no choice but to sell lottery tickets for a living. So, I help them,” Dam said.

“God gives me good health to earn money from work. So, I want to share what I have with people in need as a way to thank Him,” he said.

Phuong said he and other vendors save money by having free lunches at local Catholic churches. Many of the sellers are Catholic. 

 “Lottery ticket vendors like us work hard all day and live from hand to mouth. We are the main workforce for lottery companies. So, they should treat us fairly,” he said.

Trinh said lottery companies should ask their agents to buy back unsold tickets, increase commission rates, and offer health insurance.

“Local parishes should offer safe accommodation and healthcare to ticket vendors. Many live in small rooms,” Trinh said as she looked for a potential customer in Ho Chi Minh City on a particularly hot day.

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