Out of hope
One piece of evidence of troubled economic times is a spike in lottery ticket sales. Last year’s lottery ticket sales reached 3.56 trillion won ($2.95 billion), the highest in 12 years. The surge in ticket sales was mostly led by online Lotto, which sold 3.2 trillion won worth, an 11-year high. Sales of other lotteries also rose sharply.
The Ministry of Strategy and Finance attributed the popularity of lottery tickets to an increased number of vendors and improved public opinion of lotteries.
But there must be a more fundamental reason behind the sudden surge in lottery tickets, which, along with booze and tobacco, are another symbol of hard times during the recession.
More and more people are wishing for a stroke of good luck to free them from the endless stalemate with little change or hope to move up in society, no matter how they hard try.
Unlike Americans, Koreans have less of an interest in gambling. In America, the tickets are bought by Tom, Dick, and Harrys. People with less than high school degrees buy lottery tickets four times more than those with college degrees.
Black Americans buy them five times more than whites. In Korea, more than half of the ticket buyers are people earning more than 4 million won a month. The share of people with monthly income of less than 1.99 million won comes to just 5.9 percent.
According to the lottery commission of the Finance Ministry, most buy out of fun or as a kind of charity. Those buying as a means of donation took up 73.5 percent and those out of fun made up 67.4 percent.
The surge in lottery ticket sales therefore may not be all that bad. Apart from the payoff sum and expenses, the money earned from ticket sales all go to support the lower class or cultural and arts projects. They have a social welfare purpose.
Still, the increase amid a prolonged economic slowdown is a dismal indication.
The headwinds against the local economy are getting stronger. Exports fell by the largest rate, and consumption sagged in January. The global front is unpredictable and volatile. More and more are tempted to bet on the odds of 1 in 8.14 million. Regardless of the purpose of lottery tickets, it would be a relief to see society less in need of a jackpot.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 5, Page 30