The Thai Lottery is one of just two forms of legal gambling in the Land of Smiles, the other being horse racing in Bangkok.
It takes place twice per month, on the 1st and 16th, and is played by over 19 million Thais; a whopping 28.6% of the native population.
- 1 The Economics of the Thai Lottery
- 2 How Thais Choose Lottery Numbers
- 3 The Prizes and How to Win
- 4 The Life of a Lottery Street Vendor
- 5 The Underground Thai Lottery
The Economics of the Thai Lottery
The street vendor carting around a brown wooden box full of lotto tickets strapped to a bicycle is an image synonymous with Thai street trade.
But despite the popularity of the Thai lottery, these traders face a battle to make ends meet. A battle many traders are losing.
When Thailand’s military government took power in May 2014, lottery reform was one of many topics on their agenda.
All Thai lottery tickets are sold in pairs with the same numbers repeated, meaning that any prize you win is effectively doubled.
A standard lottery ticket pair was supposed to cost ฿80, but you’d have been searching a long time to find one at the retail rate with many being hawked for as high as ฿120.
From last summer, it was mandated that the price of a ticket pair be capped at ฿80, with fines threatened against any vendors caught inflating prices.
The concept of a lottery ticket with a variable price may be foreign to some, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those living in Thailand.
Here, the most basic market goods are subject to negotiation. A lottery ticket sold on the street was no different.
The going rate for a pair used to be ฿100 outside major supermarkets.
A street vendor might try for ฿110-120 baht.
The famous Thai superstition was monetised with premium prices demanded for tickets that contained what the locals might consider to be ‘lucky numbers’.
In turn, the tickets that contained ‘unlucky numbers’ would be subject to a discount. Perhaps ฿85-90 baht. A rare slashing at the coffers to get cursed numbers out of the brown suitcase.
Indeed, for many years, the best chance a foreigner had of catching a fair lottery price was to pursue tickets with numbers that an ordinary Thai wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.
The number superstition continues today, even after the crackdown; just without the mark-ups in price.
How Thais Choose Lottery Numbers
It is often said in Thai culture that tragedy precedes good fortune.
Perhaps this explains why some Thais can be found perusing the license plate numbers of recently crashed vehicles, or the highway numbers where accidents have occurred.
There is no event too morbid for hunting a number that is about to come good.
Another unlikely source of cosmic guidance is the shrine of Mae Nak, one of Thailand’s most famous ghosts, a young woman who died in childbirth.
Head to her shrine on Sukhumvit Soi 77 and you will find a small crowd asking Mae Nak for her divine intervention: for guidance in a tough decision, for help in an exam, for a boost of fertility.
But also for winning lottery numbers.
Next to Mae Nak’s shrine lies a small clay jar full of numbered ping pong balls.
From this pot, if you are lucky, the numbers will guide you to lottery fortune.
And if you’re not?
Hey, maybe somebody else was luckier.
Lucky Thai Numbers
You don’t have to travel to a ghostly shrine to find lucky numbers: many Thais prefer to draw on their dreams or messages from the cosmos disguised in seemingly ordinary events to choose their numbers.
For instance, the following sights have been known to spur the choice of certain lottery numbers:
- A cat with four spots
- A figure in the tree bark
- A sighting of a rat (linked to number 1)
- A large snake (number 5)
- A small snake (number 6)
- The registration plate numbers on Yingluck Shinawatra’s car (when she was in office)
- “The number just came to me…”
The capacity to calculate short odds for numbers marked by life’s oddities knows no bounds.
This writer recalls his own grandfather taking a slightly more pragmatic approach to the UK lottery.
Of the six numbers between 1-49, for twenty years without fail, he would choose:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
“Same odds,” he’d insist, to no avail. The old bugger never won.
His was a poor choice… regardless of the odds.
Even if he’d won, he’d have had to share the prize with 10,000 other punters who took the same distinctly less spiritual approach to numbers and fate.
Well, there’s no such risk with the Thai Lottery…
One of the quirks of the Thai Lottery is the way that tickets are pre-printed and sold in fixed batches.
If, for instance, 784209 has been haunting your dreams, you will need to track it down through a vendor who has that number. There’s no ticket machine for you to request and print your lucky numbers, although that may change.
In the Thai Lottery, a ‘Lucky Dip’ just means closing your eyes and dipping your hand in to the brown case.
The Prizes and How to Win
There are eight tiers of prizes:
Prize Payout (฿) How to Win
|1st (Top prize)||2,000,000 x 2 (TGL*)
3,000,000 x 2 (TCL**)
|Match all 6 digits, in correct order.|
|Consolation prize||50,000||One number out from jackpot.
E.g. if winning number is 475558, two consolation prizes are handed out for 475557 and 475559
|2nd prize||100,000||5 new six-digit numbers are drawn. Match one to win.|
|3rd prize||40,000||10 new six-digit numbers are drawn. Match one to win.|
|4th prize||20,000||50 new six-digit numbers are drawn. Match one to win.|
|5th prize||10,000||100 new six-digit numbers are drawn. Match one to win.|
|Last 3 digits||2000||Four sets of three-digits are drawn. Match one to the last three digits of your six-digit number to win (phew!)|
|Last 2 digits||1000||A final two-digit number is drawn. Match it to your last two digits to win.|
*TGL is the Thai Government Lottery.
**TCL is the Thai Charity Lottery. The only difference is the jackpot sum and the level of taxation.
What are the odds of winning Thai Lotto?
Compared to most lotteries, the chances of winning the top prize are excellent.
A mere 1 in 1,000,000.
Are the prizes worth it?
Well, nobody is going to turn down ฿3 million, but as jackpots go, this is a relatively poor bounty compared to other lotteries where the ticket costs roughly the same.
The EuroMillions, in comparison, averages a scorching ฿1.9 billion per jackpot winner.
That’s a fair old Cowboy bender.
Of course, the odds of winning the EuroMillions are considerably lower — 1 in 116,531,800.
The Thai Lottery used to have its own jackpot ‘bonus’ where you could match an additional two digits to claim an additional ฿30 million on top of your first prize.
This was discontinued in a shake-up by the Thai government in August 2015.
Indeed, the Thai Lottery has been criticised for offering some of the lowest payout ratios in the gambling world:
Just 60% compared to world-wide averages of 74% for bingo, 81% for horse racing, 89% for slot machines and 98% for Blackjack.
The Life of a Lottery Street Vendor
What happens to the remaining 40% of lottery revenue, you ask?
Well, it doesn’t all go to the knackered vendor cycling around Sukhumvit with the brown suitcase.
60% of total revenue is used as prize money, 20% goes to the Thai treasury.
The final 20% is split as follows:
- 12% — Street vendors
- 2% — Ticket wholesalers
- 3% — A fund for social activities
- 3% — Discount for foundations, associations and organizations
Ticket wholesalers purchase lottery tickets in bulk from the Government Lottery Office (GLO) at ฿68.80.
Your average licensed street vendor buys tickets from the wholesaler at ฿70.40.
The wholesaler thus secures ฿1.60 on every ticket pair sold. Not bad for minimal work.
With lottery tickets now capped at ฿80.00, this leaves a slim profit for the street vendor of just ฿9.60 per ticket pair sold. He/she is also limited to a quota of five books of 100 tickets per draw.
That’s an effective salary cap of ฿9,600 per month — assuming the vendor sells all his tickets (they are not refundable). It’s likely another job on the side is needed to top up income levels.
Since last year’s crackdown, street vendors found to be over-charging for tickets face one month in prison or a ฿10,000 fine.
As career choices go; we’ve heard better.
The Underground Thai Lottery
It’s surprising, for a country that forbids most forms of gambling, to read that an estimated 70% of Thais are regular gamblers.
Or is it?
It’s often said that Thai conversation is dominated by two things: food, and the “underground lottery” (huay).
If the government-run Thai lottery is big money, then the underground lottery is stupidly big money.
It comprises a vast network of dealers operating parallel lotteries that add up to a total sum of 4-5 times the economic impact of the official Thai lottery.
They are illegal, of course, but practically impossible to crack down on.
How do they operate?
The illegal Thai lotteries rely on the official Thai lottery to draw their winning numbers.
But they add a few extra twists.
Rules and Prizes of the Underground Thai Lottery
- Match the last two numbers exactly: pays 1,000 baht per 12 baht wagered
- Match the last three numbers exactly: pays 500 baht per 1 baht wagered
- Match the last three numbers in any order: pays 90 baht per 1 baht wagered
Search the web and you will find a number of unofficial Thai lottery agencies; some in Thailand, some held abroad for Thai expats who can’t beat their itch for the bi-monthly draw.
These punters are drawn to bigger prizes, better chances of winning, credit purchases and the convenience of placing orders for their preferred numbers online.
What does this tell us?
1. You’re unlikely to get rich from the Thai lottery.
2. Thais love the thrill of a flutter.
Featured image source: Roberto.Trombetta