China lotteries post first annual sales gain in 18 months


China’s lottery sales finally rebounded from their long decline in July, posting their first annual sales rise in 18 months.  

Figures released Tuesday by China’s Ministry of Finance show total lottery sales of RMB36.15b (US$5.28b) in the month of July, up 10.4% from the same month last year and 7.5% higher than June 2020’s total.  

July 2020’s gains were largely due to the resumption of major sports activity following the pandemic-related suspension of play this spring. Sports lottery sales rose 17.1% year-on-year to RMB20.7b while welfare lottery sales were up a more modest 2.6% to RMB15.4b.

That said, sales over the first seven months of 2020 hit RMB160b, down nearly 35% from this point last year. Sports lottery sales are down 35.6% to RMB85.3b while welfare lotteries fell 33.8% to RMB74.4b.

July’s gains snapped a prolonged streak of annual sales declines that started way back in February 2019. Initially a reflection of the outsized gains that China’s lottery market made in 2018 due to the FIFA World Cup, the declines accelerated this year as COVID-19 forced the outright suspension of all sales, after which came a long slow climb back to positive growth.

Unlike many Western lottery operators, China’s lotteries were unable to compensate for their retail shutdown by emphasizing online sales, as the country ‘temporarily’ suspended an online lottery pilot project in March 2015 after uncovering widespread fraud among provincial lottery administrators. The government has occasionally dropped hints of a possible resumption of online sales but no official change to the status quo has emerged to date.

That hasn’t stopped rumors from circulating. A couple weeks ago, China Sports Industry Group, a state-run entity set up via funding from sports lottery operations to develop local sports, was forced to deny reports that it had been authorized to launch an online sports lottery service.

More recently, Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) publicly refuted rumors that it was about to authorize an online version of the popular Mark Six lottery. The DICJ warned lottery players that anyone claiming to be offering an online lottery service was doing so illegally.