The national lottery in junta-controlled Myanmar has suffered a general boycott and has been upstaged by a dissident lottery organised by ousted democratic forces, which sold out on its first day.
The civilian National Unity Government’s (NUG) rival lottery known as Aung Lan Lwint Chi (“Victorious Spring”) went on sale for the first time on August 15 to capitalise on a public boycott of the lucrative state-controlled Aung Bar Lay lottery.
Backed by a Facebook page and word of mouth and named after the democratic resistance movement, the rival lottery sold all 50,000 tickets within an hour, with an extra 20,000 tickets issued to meet demand despite technical problems, the Irrawaddy news portal reported on Aug 16.
NUG spokespeople said 70 percent of sales of Victorious Spring tickets would be distributed to striking public servants, who are protesting against the military takeover on February 1, with the remaining 30 percent serving as prize money.
The rival lottery’s modest first prize of 1.5m kyat ($912) cannot compare with the formal lottery’s 1.5bn kyat first prize, but Victorious Spring is serving as a political mechanism more than a cash incentive for its customers.
The Victorious Spring lottery has angered the military government, which ordered the Central Bank to threaten the lottery organisers, any financial institutions involved in related transactions and its customers.
On August 13, the Central Bank instructed all financial services providers to block dissident lottery transactions, according to a leaked document reported on by Radio Free Asia.
Central Bank vice chairman Win Thaw on August 17 warned ticket holders that they could face charges of terrorism and money laundering, and threatened legal action against mobile payment and banking services used to purchase tickets.
At the same time, the military government all but admitted the impact of the lottery boycott and dissident lottery had been successful.
It announced on August 18 that the return-to-player percentage would be increased from 60 percent to 70 percent and that all payouts would be immediate rather than in instalments, as had been customary.
It was not immediately clear what impact these sweeteners could have, given that hundreds or thousands of employees reliant on the formal lottery for a living have lost their jobs amid the closure of lottery retail outlets around the country.
One day later, Radio Free Asia reported that the junta had begun to block mobile banking and payments, as well as demanding daily auditing of lender activity to deter dissident lottery activity.
These actions were part of a wider attempt to disrupt NUG sources of revenue and financial links to its supporters, including caps on ATM withdrawals.
The lottery boycott in the weeks after the coup led to two draw postponements in March and April, ostensibly allowing millions of unsold, non-refundable tickets distributed by various agents to be sold.
However, many of these distributors were unable to offload inventory, resulting in considerable losses that the military government would not cover.
The Frontier Myanmar news outlet quoted a retail outlet operator as saying in late March that damage from the coronavirus pandemic was already extensive.
But after the coup, “sales have almost completely stopped”, with customers refusing to channel revenue to the junta.
Another distributor was quoted as saying that the lottery would not recover until a civilian government is restored.
More than 1,000 people have been killed and thousands more arrested amid ongoing repression and disruption across the country, compounding devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and increasing volatility in remote regions controlled by ethnic militia.