|A customer buys a lottery ticket at a store in Seoul in this undated file photo. / Korea Times photo by Lee Dae-hyuk|
By Lee Hyo-jin
A woman in her 40s surnamed Hwang is an active buyer of lottery tickets. She started purchasing the 1,000 won (85 cent) tickets to help lift her spirits after she was forced to close her souvenir shop in downtown Seoul, as sales plummeted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"I buy a Lotto ticket almost every Monday at a store near my home. It gives me something to hope for during the weekdays," Hwang said.
An office worker in Seoul surnamed Choi spends about 5,000 won on lottery tickets every month. She knows that the chances of winning are near zero, but the ticket in her hand helps her to relieve stress from work.
"I often buy one or two tickets on my way home after a hard day at work. I don't expect to win money, but I imagine myself making a fortune and quitting my job," Choi said.
The lottery industry in Korea is booming. Data shows that Hwang and Choi are among the many Koreans who hope to win the jackpot in the weekly national lottery draw.
Lottery ticket sales in the first half of the year hit a 15-year record high, according to data from the Korea Lottery Commission (KLC), Wednesday. Total sales stood at 2.6 trillion won ($2.2 million) in the January-June period, up 11.1 percent compared with the same period last year.
It is the largest figure since 2005 when the government started to release data on lottery sales.
"It seems that the diversified lottery products, such as revised pension-style lottery tickets, have gained a lot of people's attention," a KLC official said.
Pension-style lottery ticket sales, offering monthly payouts rather than one lump sum payment, have surged 68.2 percent year-on-year. Following a revision in April, winners now receive 7 million won per month for 20 years, up from the previous 5 million won.
A KLC official said the commission found no clear correlation between the economic downturn amid the pandemic and the growth in the number of tickets sold.
Experts, on the other hand, claimed that the economic situation has influenced lottery ticket sales directly.
"Lottery tickets get popular during economic downturns, and it is a normal phenomenon in many countries. But the excessive increase in Korea is quite concerning. A lot of people are hanging their hopes on unearned income such as from the lottery, gambling or stock investments," said Kim Tai-gi, a professor of economics at Dankook University.
The psychological background of people rushing for lottery tickets can be explained by uncertainty about the future amid the coronavirus crisis, according to Kwak Geum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University.
"Now that everyone is struggling financially, people are trying to rely on luck rather than trying to achieve something with effort. They don't feel like working hard or studying hard will change anything. And uncertainty about the future due to the pandemic is making people highly anxious, the reason why they sometimes make irrational investments in lottery tickets or speculative purchases in the stock market," Kwak explained.