Venezuelan crisis spawns boom in gambling

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World Economy

Venezuelan crisis spawns boom in gambling

Competitors take part in a horserace, with a slum or "barrio" in the background at La Rinconada Hippodrome, Caracas, Venezuela.
Ricardo Moraes | Reuters

Though more people lose than win overall, the illusion of a payday has become more alluring as Venezuelans endure the world's highest inflation, shortages of basics from flour to car batteries, and diminished real-term wages.

Among multiple options from racetracks to back-street betting parlors, the roulette-style "Los Animalitos" (or the Little Animals) is currently by far the most popular game on the street.

  • 'The Whale,' 'The Dog' or 'The Zebra'?

    Players line up beside a small kiosk in a poor neighborhood to choose animals in a lottery game that has become a craze in Venezuela even as the oil-rich country suffers a fourth year of brutal recession.

    It seems more and more Venezuelans are turning to gambling in their desperation to make ends meet amid the country's unprecedented economic crisis.

    People wager money on "Los Animalitos" on the outskirts of Caracas. "In a crisis like the one we're going through, people drink and gamble more to escape from reality," said psychologist Rosa Garcia from the rural state of Barinas.
    Ricardo Moraes | Reuters
  • High unemployment

    "Most people I see playing the lottery are unemployed, trying to make a bit extra this way because the payouts are good," said Veruska Torres, 26, a nurse who recently lost her job in a pharmacy and now plays Animalitos every day.

    Torres often plays more than a dozen times daily at the kiosk in Catia, spending between 5,000-10,000 bolivars, but sometimes making up to 50,000 or 60,000 bolivars in winnings — more than a quarter of the monthly minimum wage.

    When that happens, she splits the money between buying food and diapers for her baby boy and re-investing in the lottery.

    Veruska Torres plays with her son on the outskirts of Caracas. He is wearing a new t-shirt bought with prize money won on "Los Animalitos".
    Ricardo Moraes | Reuters
  • More chances to win

    The Animalitos game, whose results appear on YouTube at scheduled times, is hugely popular because it goes through various rounds, holding people's interest, and provides more chances to win than most traditional betting options.

    The cheapest ticket costs just 100 bolivars — a quarter of a U.S. cent at the black market currency rate and more than 10 times less than that at the official exchange level.

    A gambler wagers money on "Los Animalitos" on the outskirts of Caracas. There is no hard data on betting figures, and the government's betting regulator did not answer requests from Reuters for information. But those behind Venezuela's gambling businesses, run by a mixture of private companies and local regional authorities, said trade was booming, with lines longer and busier than ever - because of, not despite, the hard times.
    Ricardo Moraes | Reuters
  • Making ends meet

    "It helped me a lot," said Eduardo Liendo, 63, of a timely win. He recently lost his house and lives in a car in Caracas' Propatria neighborhood but had a successful punt on the Animalitos, choosing the dog figure after his own had died.

    Eduardo Liendo, 63, who lives inside an old car, holds his prize money which he won on "Los Animalitos" on the outskirts of Caracas. "It helped me a lot," said Eduardo Liendo, 63, of a timely win. He recently lost his house and lives in a car in Caracas' Propatria neighborhood, but had a successful punt on the Animalitos, choosing the dog figure after his own had died.
    Ricardo Moraes | Reuters
  • A booming industry

    There is no hard data on betting figures, and the government's betting regulator did not answer requests from Reuters for information. But those behind Venezuela's gambling businesses, run by a mixture of private companies and local regional authorities, said trade was booming, with lines longer and busier than ever — because of, not despite, the hard times.

    People cheer as competitors take part in a horse race at La Rinconada Hippodrome, in Caracas. The latest scarcity in Venezuela is cash - as authorities cannot produce enough notes to keep up with dizzying inflation - so many bars, shops and betting parlors have quickly switched from cash to electronic transactions to keep money flowing.
    Ricardo Moraes | Reuters
  • Modernizing transactions

    The latest scarcity in Venezuela is cash — as authorities cannot produce enough notes to keep up with dizzying inflation — so many bars, shops and betting parlors have quickly switched from cash to electronic transactions to keep money flowing.

    People react as they watch a horse race at La Rinconada Hippodrome, in Caracas.
    Ricardo Moraes | Reuters
  • Passing the time

    People react as they watch a horse race at La Rinconada Hippodrome, in Caracas. "In a crisis like the one we're going through, people drink and gamble more to escape from reality," said psychologist Rosa Garcia from the rural state of Barinas.

    People react as they watch a horse race at La Rinconada Hippodrome, in Caracas.
    Ricardo Moraes | Reuters