Scratch tickets become a new fashion trend among young Chinese

Two scratch ticket enthusiasts examine their tickets at a lottery ticket booth. Photo: VCG

Two scratch ticket enthusiasts examine their tickets at a lottery ticket booth. Photo: VCG

“Now let’s see…” as the livestream host slowly scratches the silver coatings on the ticket with a key, viewer Liu Jinjuan nervously watches her phone. With fists clenched and breath held, Liu feels as if the key is also scratching at her heart.

“The number is…23! Wow, I win 100 yuan [$13.8]!” the host cheers, and so does Liu. She feels that this scratch ticket, even though not hers, has become a fun highlight of her day.

Liu is among a surging Chinese youth who have increasingly taken a liking to scratch tickets. They flood the lottery ticket booths on streets or in malls, buy a few scratch tickets, and carefully scratch off every concealed number with nervous excitement.

In the first two months of 2024, the sales volume of scratch tickets (or instant lottery tickets) reached 25.262 billion yuan in the Chinese mainland, a dramatic increase of 93.8 percent year-on-year, according to Chinese Ministry of Finance data.

Scratch tickets have become trendy among Chinese people, particularly among the youth, said Li Hai, dean of the School of Economics and Management at Shanghai University of Sport (SUS), who also directs the Shanghai Sports Lottery Research Center.

Emotional value

Liu shared with the Global Times her latest scratch ticket experience on Tuesday: She bought a 10 yuan ticket and a 20 yuan one, which respectively won her 20 yuan and 30 yuan.

Liu netted 20 yuan. “I was so lucky,” she said as she kissed the two tickets. “They made my day.”

“The excitement and joy of winning the lottery is unparalleled,” Liu told the Global Times. She started buying scratch tickets early in the year. Every week she buys some 10 tickets, costing her about 200 yuan. The biggest prize she has ever won so far has been 200 yuan. “I don’t care about how much I can win exactly,” said Liu, adding that “scratch tickets offer me more emotional value than money. I feel very happy even when I win less than 10 yuan.”

“And the process of scratching to reveal the numbers is a source of enough joy,” she noted. “It’s like the next piece of chocolate in the box, giving a sort of hidden surprise.”

The emotional value that a scratch ticket brings is the main reason why it attracts young people, Li said. Different from the number lotteries, which usually draw the winning numbers once a week, scratch tickets enable the buyers to know whether they have won a prize within seconds, and that offers them instant excitement. 

“Also, the maximum prize amounts for scratch tickets are not very high, but the tickets have much smaller prizes than number lotteries do,” Li said. “That allows more scratch ticket buyers to enjoy the happiness of winning.”

Therefore, the general customer profile of a scratch ticket buyer is usually someone who has a stable job and income, as well as a relatively high education level, Li concluded. “They are rational and don’t have a get-rich-quick speculative mindset,” he told the Global Times. “They buy scratch tickets for fun.”

Echoing Li, scratch ticket lover Sherry Yang shared that she usually buys scratch tickets when she is “either very happy or very unhappy.” “Sometimes when I feel down, I buy a lot of scratch tickets and spend a whole afternoon on them,” she told the Global Times. “That’s a good way of relieving stress.”

A customer shows off three used scratch tickets.  Photo: VCG

A customer shows off three used scratch tickets. Photo: VCG

Young trend

The lottery market is trending young, with scratch ticket purchasers mostly between 18 and 34 year old, according to a report released by a Chinese domestic data research and consulting institute in October 2023.

The scratch ticket industry is trying to provide more supplementary services that cater to the growing number of young buyers. At a China Sports Lottery’s booth in Jing’an district, central Shanghai on Tuesday, the Global Times witnessed a booth staffer sending scratch ticket buyers lovely cards, stickers, and red packets with lucky words on them.

“Young people like these small gifts; they hope the gifts will bring them good luck,” the staffer told the Global Times.

Interestingly, creative young customers have also explored new uses for the scratch tickets. On social media, it’s common to see Gen Zers send invited wedding or birthday party guests scratch tickets as a small welcome gift, which is affordable and can enliven the atmosphere.

Young people have developed a new social function of scratch tickets, said Li. Just like ball games or TV series, buying scratch tickets has become a lighthearted conversation piece among friends, he said.

For IT industry practitioner Xiang, the social function is one of the biggest values of scratch tickets. “I only buy scratch tickets with friends,” the 30-year-old told the Global Times. “To me, it’s a ‘friend activity’ that can amplify the fun of the experience itself.”

Healthy, orderly development

China has one of the largest lottery markets in the world. Observers noted that the influx of young scratch ticket customers is bringing new energy to the development of the lottery industry.

Now the young generation has become more involved in the industry, Li said. At SUS, Li established the “sports lottery management” course for juniors majoring in economic management, where they learn about different types of sports lotteries, the current situation of the industry, and its prospects.

In the Chinese mainland, the Chinese Sports Lottery and the Chinese Welfare Lottery, under the management of the General Administration of Sport of China and the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, respectively, are the only two legal lottery issuers. The popularity of scratch tickets has also led to some hidden risks, such as the proliferation of illegal scratch tickets.

Li cautioned the public to avoid participating in underground “private” lotteries. “Also, authorities are working hard to crack down on the illegal lotteries, so as to maintain the healthy and orderly development of the industry,” he noted.