How lotteries like Spain’s El Gordo enhance social ties

January 3rd, 2010

The economist has an article, Gamblers united, on Spain’s lotteries, like El Gordo (“the Fatty”) will will pay out €2.3 billion this year. What I found interesting is that this and other Spanish lotteries are events that enhance social ties.

“Loterías y Apuestas del Estado, the government agency that runs El Gordo and other lotteries during the year, encourages mass participation by dividing each €200 ticket into décimos, or tenths, which sell for €20. This, in turn, allows players to improve their odds by buying small shares in many tickets, often by forming syndicates with friends and colleagues. … All this has transformed the lottery from a glorified tax on the poor, as it is in most countries, into part of the social fabric. Sharing tickets at Christmas has become a way to reinforce social ties, says Roberto Garvía, a visiting professor at Georgetown University. The practice of forming syndicates, which initially started in the 19th century when lottery tickets became too expensive for working-class folk, has become a tradition among all classes. As one banker says, “I don’t want to be the only idiot who has to turn up to work if the office number wins.”