In the Laos national lottery the cat has at least four lives as the lucky numbers that represent the animal in the country’s culture came up in the national lottery four times in four consecutive months, raising questions about the honesty of the game.
On August 10 the winning numbers were 354. On September 22 they were 314. On October 3 the lucky numbers were 694. In November they were 314.
In Laos, all of the three-digit numbers are symbolic of Felis catus, and normally might be played by thousands of Laos who are looking for a lucky edge when they play the thrice-weekly lottery.
Lao lottery players wanting to trust their luck to the feline numbers are finding that the numbers of the cat are mysteriously unavailable when the clerk punches them in at the lottery station.
A lottery salesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA’s Lao Service that Thailand's Insee Trading Company that runs the lottery knows numbers people choose and that allows its executives to manipulate the system.
“The company runs the center that controls the system,” the salesman said. “They will know exactly which numbers people buy a lot of, so they will lock them out, but they will then pick an another number at random.”
It’s not the first time the Lao public has questioned the honesty of the game. Earlier this year questions were raised when Lao players sought to play lucky number 509, but the 09 disappeared from their tickets.
Suspicions were also raised when winning numbers for three consecutive drawings at the end of September were 367, 267, and 567. The number 67 is commonly associated with the turtle, an animal believed in Laos to bring bad luck, meaning few Lao gamblers would pick anything with the that number.
Vilasack Phommaluck, a Finance Ministry official serving on the committee that oversees the lottery, told RFA there were changes made to respond to the earlier questions about the legitimacy of the game.
"After the public complained about the lottery rigging, the steering committee ordered a lottery company to reduce the drawing from three times to two time per week,” he said. “And each time the random drawing must be on shown on live TV live starting November. Before that it was on TV once a month."
‘The committee does not get involved’
Vilasack Phommaluck said other changes may be made to help restore faith in the game, including cutting the drawing back to once a week.
"Now the ministry is considering the number of drawings and it might be reduced to one time per week in the future, but it depends,” he said.
While reducing the number of games may make it easier to keep track of the results and showing them live could reduce the likelihood of shenanigans, it is unclear if it would prevent the lottery company from manipulating the numbers.
Vilasack Phommaluck told RFA that behavior was outside the purview of the steering committee.
“With regard to blocking some numbers or not selling some numbers, it is the responsibility of the company and its agencies, but the committee does not get involved," he said.
Manipulating the numbers is not the only problem that Lao lottery players see with the game. Questions about the weight of the lottery balls have also been raised.
“My observation is that weight of each ball is different from one another and the heaviest ball will fall into the hole faster than other because it will bounce lower while the random drawing is working,” said a Vientiane resident who follows the lottery.
Vilasack Phommaluck dismissed the accusation, telling RFA the committee double checked the lottery balls.
“The committee must weigh each ball with a digital scale to make sure that they all have equal weight and that there is nothing inside,” he said. “In addition, the committee invites the public to observe the random drawing for transparency.”
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.