Vietnam eyes electronic lottery

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A plan to abandon paper tickets has left many wondering what will happen to the country's legions of poor ticket vendors

An elderly woman sells lottery tickets on a sidewalk in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam has unveiled a plan that will wean the country away from paper lottery tickets and on to a centralized electronic system.

Many fear that phasing out paper lottery tickets will deny a key source of income to the large population of elderly and disabled ticket vendors.

Last week, the government approved a plan to establish a state-owned electronic lottery company with a registered capital of VND500 billion (US$24.3 million). The company will operate on a trial basis for the next two years in select cities and provinces before expanding its services, nationwide.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, however, noted that the plan has to be carried out in stages. All profits from lottery sales will go to healthcare, education and social welfare projects.

Under the plan, lottery players will be allowed to select their own lucky numbers at electronic kiosks. The goal of the program is to replace paper lottery tickets with a centralized electronic system.

Competition is now fierce among provincial lottery companies, as they offer exactly the same daily prizes. Each ticket has a six-digit number and sells for around VND10,000 ($0.48), with the top cash prize of VND1.5 billion, or around $73,000.

Duong The Dao, director of the Binh Dinh Lottery, said lottery companies in the central region alone return around 4.8 million unsold tickets every day.

"That translates to a loss of VND876 billion ($42.6 million) a year, including VND56 billion just for printing costs," he said.

Dao said he believes that going paperless will ultimately rid Vietnam of pesky ticket vendors who tend to bother people on the street.

Authorized retailers, however, need to be established to operate electronic equipment, he said. In addition, the data transfer system has to be completely secure, Dao added.

Nguyen Ngoc My, chairman of the Overseas Vietnamese Business Club, also thinks now is the right time to switch to a modern lottery system.

"Paper lottery tickets are better suited to low-income players while e-lotteries tend to attract better-off players," My said. "The revenues that e-lottery can bring in will be bigger."

Some analysts are less optimistic and fear that a lot of people who earn their living from selling lottery tickets will be pushed into poverty.

Do Quang Vinh, general director of Ho Chi Minh City Lottery Company, said that although he supports the plan to modernize the lottery system, he worries that many disabled and elderly ticket vendors will face a lot of difficulties.

There has to be a plan to support this group of people, he said.

My, who has invested in gambling services in Vietnam, said that all e-lottery revenues will be used to finance social projects.

"The key issue is how provincial authorities will use these funds," Vinh said. "If the money is managed well, it can mitigate the negative impacts on ticket sellers by creating new jobs for them."

"Many children actually leave school to sell lottery tickets, so there has to be a way to help them pursue education and e-lottery revenues could be useful toward that end," My said.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Trung Ngoc, former deputy director of Hanoi Lottery Company, does not think the switch from paper-based lottery will be that smooth.

Local lottery players will need some time to get used to the new format because it's not easy to change their habits, Ngoc said, adding that the whole plan will ultimately hinge on how the first two pilot years work out.

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