Monthly lottery fever grips Myanmar

Associated Press, Straits Times, 18 August 2000

Hundreds of thousands take an unofficial holiday for seven days as they play an illegal two-digit lottery which is based on the official version

YANGON—From the third to the ninth of every month, Myanmar takes an unofficial holiday. Businesses halt and office work slackens as people indulge in what has become a national pastime, even obsession: the “two- digit lottery”.

Hoping to get rich quickly in one of the world's poorest countries, more and more people are turning to the hottest—and illegal—game of chance.

Hundreds of thousands of people pay clandestine visits to roadside food-stalls, coffee shops, betel-nut shops and markets, where the tickets are sold under the counter.

Before putting their money on the line, many visit temples to consult Buddhist monks on lucky numbers; others try to predict the jackpot number by interpreting dreams and incidents.

Playing the lottery is simple: punters have to bet on a two-digit number of their choice. They win 80 times their investment if the number tallies with the last two digits of the winners in the official lottery run by the Finance Ministry every month from the third to ninth.

Mr Myint Aung, a major operator of the two-digit lottery, said he hires “several boys” to sell tickets.

Sales remain open until 8.30 am, 30 minutes before the results of the official lottery are announced, he said.

“My man waiting at the state lottery office in downtown Yangon calls my mobile phone as soon as the results come out,” said Mr Myint, a 51-year-old ethnic Chinese man.

Prizes are collected from the seller's shop, or in the case of bigger payouts, delivered to the winner's home.

The official lottery holds draws every day for seven consecutive days, announcing regular small prizes before revealing the jackpot.

The “na lone ti” follows the draws and hands out prizes corresponding to the winning official lotteries.

Multiple winners are possible since the last two digits could have been picked by many people.

The government lotteries cost 50 kyats (S$0.25). The “na lone ti” can be bought for as little as five kyats.

The most expensive ticket is for 300,000 kyats, which promises a possible prize money equivalent to US$68,560 (S$118,000), a big fortune for most people.

The “na lone ti” tickets are pieces of white, blue or pink paper with the better's number scribbled on it.

Mr Nyunt Lwin, a bus driver who earns 10,000 kyats a month, said he won 20,000 kyats this month.

Many ardent betters flock to monasteries, famous for pointing the believers in the right direction.