This July 27 marked the 20th anniversary of the China Lottery with the industry having raised 242.3 billion yuan (US$32 billion) over the past two decades. This year alone, lottery sales are set to smash the past 60 billion yuan mark.
When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, all forms of gambling, including lottery, were considered to be capitalist practices and were banned until 1987.
In 1984, with the coffers of welfare facilities lying empty, Cui Naifu, then minister of China's Ministry of Civil Affairs, hit upon the idea of using lotteries.
In 1986, the Ministry of Civil Affairs submitted an application to the State Council for issuing a charity lottery so as collect funds to support welfare establishment in the country. After permission was granted, a committee was then founded in Beijing on June 3, 1987.
On July 27, 1987, Shijiazhuang, capital of north China's Hebei Province, issued the country's first lottery. The lottery had a face value of 1 yuan with seven different premiums, up to 5,000 yuan (US$660) in value. Thirty-five percent of total revenue was returned back as premium.
During the following months, ten provinces nationwide had followed suit.
One day in August 1987, Lu Zhiren, an official working in Shanghai's Xuhui District, was told by his leaders to motivate local residents to buy welfare lotteries. After his efforts, over 10,000 lottery tickets had been sold.
Twenty years later, Lu still remembers the beautiful pattern of the lottery tickets, displaying an epigraph written by Zhao Puchu, former president of the Buddhist Association of China. "At that time, the lottery was named as a charitable contribution raffle, to avoid the view of it being a lottery similar to those seen in capitalist countries," Lu said.
However, lottery sales in some cities did not go as smoothly as in Shanghai. One issuer working in Guangzhou in December 1987 remembers that sales from his outlet were initially poor. The Guangzhou government elected to move the outlets to state-owned banks, thus increasing their legitimacy.
Slowly, Chinese people became hooked. Statistics from the China Welfare Lottery Management Center said that the annual revenue from lottery sale came to 17 million yuan (US$2.26 million) in 1987, 370 million yuan (US$50 million) in 1988 and 380 million yuan (US$51.3 million) in 1989. However, the per capita lottery sale still lingered at a meager 0.4 yuan.
In the 1990s, lottery tickets became more alluring with big prizes such as apartments, houses, cars, color TVs and laundry machines. These luxury articles were showcased on the spot, usually at large outdoor plazas to attract punters.
In 1992, the daily sale record was made in Shanxi's Datong City, reaching 2 million yuan (US$267,000). In 1998, southern Dongguan City saw sales of 44 million yuan (US$5.9 million) in three and a half days. In 1999, the eastern city of Wenzhou smashed the record by posting 120 million yuan (US$16 million) in sales in a single day.
However, many scandals tainted instant lotteries in 2004. Five forgers working for Shaanxi Spot Lottery Management Center were jailed while the director received a 13-year sentence. Public confidence was seriously damaged and the central government stopped instant lotteries on May 2004.
In April 1994, China created a sport lottery. The two lotteries were soon competing to attract more customers. The newcomer was boosted in October 2001 when China's football team qualified for the World Cup which saw sport lottery sales rocket to 238 million yuan (US$32 million) in eight rounds.
Many millionaires made their fortunes in lotteries. In 2002, a resident of the southern city of Jiangmen won 45 million yuan (US$6 million). In 2006, a Tangshan citizen claimed the largest-ever sum of 50 million yuan (US$66.7 million) with 10 same number tickets.
However, the gambling side in lottery also shows its dangerous side.
On June 22, Zhou Yuande, a Chengdu citizen, killed his mother and his brother after they refused to give him money to buy lottery tickets. In 2007, two employees from a Hebei bank stole 51 million yuan (US$6.8 million) and spent 45 million yuan (US$6 million) on lotteries.