As the number of Vietnamese lottery players is growing rapidly each year, Vietnamese lottery companies accumulate a fortune.

While the disposal of the tickets remains a lower-class job field, the biggest Vietnamese Lottery Company (Vietlott) reported a revenue of more than VNĐ3.8 trillion (US$168.6 million) in 2017, more than double the revenue in 2016.

In the same year, the jackpot reached a record high of VND131.9 billion (US$5.7 million). Due to the rising demand for lottery gambling, the revenue for 2018 is estimated to double again.

To reach potential lottery players, big companies like Vietlott, sell tickets to wholesalers, who deliver smaller stores that are located in every Vietnamese major city. 

Those local stores sell the tickets for 9 000 VN-Dong (40 US-Cents) per ticket, to individual sellers, who then strive around the streets of Saigon with the hope to sell all the tickets they bought, until they expire.

The individual seller gains a profit of about 10%, by selling each ticket for 10 000 VN-Dong, 1 000 Dong (4-5 US-Cents) profit for each sold ticket. 

According to the interviews I did, the average lottery ticket seller, sells about 200 tickets per day.

Due to a lack of registration and taxation of sellers and suppliers, as well as Saigon’s rapid urbanization, the exact number of lottery ticket sellers is unknown. 

For many poor Vietnamese people, selling lottery tickets is the only source of income.

In difference to other Asian nations as Korea, Singapore or Malaysia, the social security systems of Vietnam aren’t capable yet to handle the amount of less fortunate citizens. 

As Vietnamese people are very concerned about losing their face, they choose selling lottery tickets over the socially detested act of begging.

On really lucky days, a lottery ticket seller can make up to 230 000 VN-Dong (10 US-Dollars), just enough to survive as the following story of Huong, a single-mother lottery ticket seller from Saigon, reveals.

Duyên, a 60 years old lady, calculates the number of tickets she has left to sell on that day; I met her when I was interviewing different lottery ticket sellers in and around Saigon

Huong and Manh

Huong is pregnant and her baby is coming soon. Every day, she and her husband spend hours, cuddling and petting her belly. 

They don’t know if it’s going to be a boy or girl yet, neither if they will be able to take care of their child. 

But that doesn’t matter, as they have each other, which is all that counts. 

Huong’s life turns upside down, when a police officer tells her one morning, that her loved husband died in a traffic accident. The shock is big and the widow of a few hours’ standing, realizes for the first time, that she is all alone from now on.

4 months later, Huong is giving birth to her first son. Only the doctors and nurses are by her side during this incisive event.

Huong calls her son Manh, which means “strong” in Vietnamese, not knowing that they both have tough times ahead of them.

“Manh’s birth was the most beautiful day in my life. I held him in my arms, saw into his beautiful eyes and felt a deep satisfaction. A feeling, which I never felt again.”

Why there weren’t any relatives by her side when she gave birth to her child? 

Huong’s parents are already dead and her husband got rejected from his family in An Giang, after he left them, hoping for a better life in Saigon.

The contact with Huong’s sister? Broken, as they never got along well with each other.

The life with Manh reveals new challenges which the single mother has to face by herself, and again, her life turns up-side down. 

The clothing factory, where Huong worked before the pregnancy and in which she met her husband 15 years ago, closed down due to seceding profits.

Furthermore, nobody wants to hire Huong anymore, as she has no one who could take care of her son, Manh, while she works. 

As Huong has to feed two people now, without earning money from a stable job, every day is a fight for survival.

It doesn’t take long for Huong to realize that she and Manh are left alone. Nobody will help them. 

Huong looks older than her age, 44 years, and one can see the great dedication with which she tries to do the best for her son.

The only option to make money for the two of them, is by selling lottery tickets. On good days Huong sells 250 tickets (a daily profit of about 11 US-$) and on bad days she only sells 180 tickets (a daily profit of about 8 US-$). 

Manh has to accompany Huong during the heavy 16-hour shift of selling lottery tickets. 

Their day starts at 5 am, when they have a small breakfast of rice and vegetable soup, before hitting the streets of Saigon. Depending on how good the sells go, they can enjoy their lunch early or late. 

Around 5pm, Huong is usually done with selling all the tickets for the day, so she already buys tickets for the next day and starts selling those until 11pm. 

If Manh is tired, Huong has to carry him, as there is no time for a longer rest. 

“I believe that I could sell much more tickets, if I wouldn’t have to carry Manh all the time.”, is telling me Huong in a tone of indifference, knowing that complaining about such things doesn’t change the situation, she is in. 

While interviewing Huong, I quickly realize, that Manh wears clean, new clothes, while Huong’s clothes look dirty and worn out.

“I do everything for him. My whole life is dedicated to my son. Every day, that I spend with him is a lucky day for me. Never could I leave him, the responsibility, as well as my love for him are too big.”

When their day ends at 11pm, Huong and Manh go back to the tenement they live in, where they have to share a room with more than 15 strangers. 

Huong usually has to carry Manh on her arms during that time, as he already sleeps, and has her dinner alone. A small bowl of Pho, famous Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

Tired from the day, both of them usually fall directly into a dreamless sleep, not knowing what difficulties the next day might offer them.

“What I would do if one of my unsold tickets would win? Hmm… That would be a lot of money! More money than I ever had in my life. I would probably send Manh to school and enable him a beautiful child hood. We would be free people then and could live in our own apartment. We could spend time playing together, doing things we enjoy, I could care for him as other mothers do… It depresses me too much, I don’t want to talk about it. The chances for this to happen are too little.” 

The money Huong makes in a day is enough to survive, but not enough to spend time worrying about one’s future.

As no school accepts to educate the 5 years old due to his active behavior and the lack of child care during the afternoon, Huong is afraid that her son will end up in her position as well and complains:

“Nobody helps us, we are just for ourselves. How could he (Manh) ever get formal education? What if Manh gets sick one day? How could I be able to pay for the medics or the hospital? How would we survive in such a situation?” 

It’s the helpless expression of Huong’s eyes, an expression I have seen in all of the lottery ticket seller’s eyes, when I asked them about their thoughts regarding their future. 

Stuck in the queue of selling tickets day by day, the majority of them has lost any hope for a better future. Left alone, without any social, nor economic stability, their destiny seems to be sealed.

Vietnam’s lottery ticket sellers remain as wandering souls, struggling for survival, while keeping a system alive that generates millions of dollars profit each year. 

Profit, which is unequally allotted and generated on cost of those,who live on the edge of existence.


Lottery tickets are getting handed out at a lottery ticket station in GoVap, Saigon; Photo by: Anton Hansen
A potential Lottery Ticket Buyer searches for his “lucky number”; Photo by Anton Hansen
A traffic participant stops on the side of the road to buy lottery tickets; Photo by: Anton Hansen
A lottery ticket station which supplies individual lottery ticket sellers in Go Vap, Saigon; Photo by: Anton Hansen
A man who wants to remain unknown, sitting on a street corner in Saigon. “I wonder where my grand-children are now. My thoughts are with them whenever I sit here. When was the last time that I saw them?”
A man who wants to remain unknown, sitting on a street corner in Saigon. “I wonder where my grand-children are now. My thoughts are with them whenever I sit here. When was the last time that I saw them?”
Anh, 40 years old, lottery ticket seller for seven years: “I hope to retire one day, when my children can fend for themselves. If I have tickets left on the end of the day, I use them by myself. Unfortunately, it seems as if luck is not by my side.”

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