Venezuelans Turn to Animal Lottery to Gamble Devalued Bolivars

(Bloomberg) -- The long lines of people that have become routine in Venezuela now have them looking for hope in a virtual roulette wheel. These players have put their faith in a peculiar lottery, where a rooster can save you and help you reach the end of the month.

Venezuelans Turn to Animal Lottery to Gamble Devalued Bolivars

In the lottery game, known as "animalitos," you can choose from 30 animals ranging from the scorpion to the fox, winning 30 times the amount of the bet. With the 100-bolivar minimum bet (anywhere between $0.003 or $10 depending what exchange rate you use), you can win 3,000 bolivars. While those profits are modest, it’s enough to buy a light lunch in a country where food shortages and skyrocketing inflation mean that a meal on the street can take a big bite out of someone’s wages.

"I started playing in mid-March this year, a neighbor taught me how to do it," said Yorlo Karicpazi, a 21-year-old student who lined up to play the game on a recent afternoon in Caracas. "I remember buying three little animals the first time: the horse, the pig and the rooster. I bet a total of 300 bolivars and I won 3,000 that same afternoon."

The growing popularity of the game shows how more and more Venezuelans are turning to atypical means to get by as the deep recession and severely devalued national currency make it hard for many families to have three meals a day. An average family requires 13.5 minimum wages just to over basic food costs, according to Caracas-based research group Cenda. Karicpazi’s lottery winnings have helped him buy food, but more often he has used them to cover transportation to the university.

The game is legal and there are several companies that manage some form of the animal lottery, the most popular being one called Lotto Activo, based in Cojedes state.

Venezuelans Turn to Animal Lottery to Gamble Devalued Bolivars

After placing bets on one or more of the 30 animals at a lottery ticket vendor, players watch the roulette results on YouTube videos at scheduled times. Winners go back to where they purchased their tickets the next day to retrieve their winnings.

Inflation, estimated to reach up to 2,300 percent next year, has caused cash shortages as Venezuelans carry backpacks full of bills to run their daily errands. A roll out of new higher denomination bills have done little to solve the problem.

The government is also hoarding dollars from oil exports and loans to try to stay current on its international debt with more than $2 billion coming due over the next week. Bonds plunged Thursday on concern the government won’t pay this time around.

Back in Caracas, people have more pressing issues than paying their debts.

"It’s a way to get cash,” said Karicpazi. “It helps a lot.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.