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Mon, Mar 11, 2002 - Page 18 News List

NT$50, the price to dream of winning easy millions

Lotto fever has led to much criticism, with opponents like the nation's vice president fearing Taiwan could be swept up in a `social mudslide.' Still, backers of the lottery say it contributes to the public welfare. It also offers the average person a chance to dream of untold riches, they argue. `Taipei Times' staff reporter Stanley Chou spoke about the controversy with Richard Yang, vice president and general manager of TaipeiBank's lottery department, which oversees the nation's twice-weekly drawing of the computerized public welfare lottery

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Richard Yang, vice president and general manager of TaipeiBank's lottery department, shows off a recently revised lottery ticket that allows punters to pick five sets of numbers for each ticket. Before, just one number set was printed per ticket, leading to a shortfall in the special paper used in the lottery.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES.

Taipei Times: The recent buying frenzy for lottery tickets has led to some opposition to the lottery. Could you comment on the issue?

Richard Yang (楊瑞東): From my point of view, there are four functions the lottery provides, and the lottery will be hard to abolish.

The first one is revenue. The public welfare lottery is likely to generate more revenue than the merchandise tax and at almost no cost to the government. (The lottery is estimated to generate NT$40 billion in revenue in its first year.)

The second one is the lottery could provide a stimulus to related industries and help the economy.

The third one is it helps employment, especially for those people who have trouble finding work, such as the handicapped. Although the lottery has created jobs for just 8,500 retailers, most of them have had difficulties finding other job opportunities. In a way, the lottery has lessened the necessity for the government [to provide] subsidies [for those people].

The last one is the lottery provides hope for everyone to get rich on an equal basis -- especially those who are naturally inferior in intelligence or in their family backgrounds ... for example, those with very little education and brought up in a poor environment.

There is always a group of people who [have little chance of] getting rich in their lives. Whoever you are, the chances of getting rich is the same when you spend NT$50 on a lottery ticket.

Although the chance of winning is slim, the hope is very important for people to live on, and the lottery provides that hope for everyone. This is a view that few people take.

TT: In most states in the US, the lottery needs to go through a public referendum or be approved by state legislators before being launched. Do you think Taiwan needs a referendum to decide the future of the lottery?

Yang: The Legislative Yuan approved Taiwan's lottery last year after a prolonged and turbulent process, though no referendum was held. But before the approval, there was a poll conducted by Gallop, which showed that 67 percent of the public was in favor.

Although there has been no poll on the issue since the lottery was launched, my personal view is that currently more than half of the public would support the lottery being continued.

TT: Do you think the frequency of the lottery's draw should be reduced?

Yang: Actually, two draws a week in Taiwan is not on the high end. In many states in the US and in Hong Kong, the lotteries are drawn three or even four times a week. Some games such as [California's] Keno draws every four minutes. You can bet one dollar and win 10 or 20 dollars.

TT: Some suggest that buying a lottery ticket is the same as speculating in the stock market. What's your view on the issue?

Yang: To win the lottery jackpot, the odds are one in 5.24 million. The odds are very small but the rate of return is much higher than buying stocks. To buy stocks, you need at least some knowledge of the market's fundamentals, but not in lottery. It's only a guess. The nature between the two are quite different. We should not treat the lottery as an investment tool.

TT: Many states in the US spend their lottery revenue on education. Taiwan's lottery is different. Do you have any comment on how to spend the lottery revenue?

Yang: There's no minimum of government budget that is required to be spent on education in most states in the US. Therefore, many states have turned to lottery revenue to subsidize education.

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