China’s January lottery sales plunge, could be zero in February


china-lottery-january-sales-plungeChina’s lottery sales fell by more than two-fifths in January and will likely go down to zero when February’s numbers are released.

On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Finance announced that lottery sales in the month of January totaled RMB27.2b (US$3.9b), a decline of 43.3% from the same month last year. Welfare lottery sales were down 39.3% to RMB12.9b while the sports lottery tumbled 46.4% to RMB14.3b, the latter figure reflecting the boost that January 2019’s sales got from the AFC Asian Cup football tournament.

This January’s overall sales decline – the 12th straight month of negative growth – reflects the shutdown of most lottery operations on January 22 to observe the annual Spring Festival celebrations. That shutdown was supposed to end on January 31 but was extended to February 9 as the rapid spread of the coronavirus prompted fears of lottery players infecting each other after huddling together in small retail outlets.

That shutdown has yet to be lifted, despite recent suggestions by the government’s official lottery site that retailers were preparing to open their shops by furiously disinfecting all surfaces and installing ‘temperature detectors’ to verify that no one who appears to have contracted the COVID-19 disease gets in – or out – of the shop without the authorities finding out.

Provincial lottery administration centers have begun offering ‘online training’ courses for lottery staff to ensure they know what will be expected of them once the signal to resume operations is given. Some administration centers have reportedly been issuing “special subsidies” to help retailers cope with their lack of income, although the payments appear to be minuscule.

The extended shutdown means that February’s lottery sales could amount to literally nothing. This would be an unprecedented event, on par with Macau’s casinos recording a nearly 88% drop in February’s gaming revenue following the government-ordered 15-day shutdown of gaming operations.

In 2019, China’s lottery operations suffered a double-digit sales decline, the first such decline in five years. A variety of factors contributed to this decline, including the general slowdown in China’s economy and the ‘temporary’ suspension of online lottery sales, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this month.

The lottery shutdown eliminated the only legal gambling option on the Chinese mainland, which, along with travel restrictions to Macau, may have contributed to the Ministry of Public Security announcing new plans to rein in local residents’ ability to access internationally licensed online gambling sites, which appear only too eager to be fill China’s temporary gambling void.