SEJONG, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- Sales of the Korean lottery Lotto hit their highest last year, statistics from the operator showed Monday, a trend that comes during economic slumps, social analysts say.
The statistics from the Korea Lottery Commission said Lotto sales reached 3.55 trillion won (US$3.02 billion), or 3.55 billion tickets, last year, an increase of 9 percent from the year before. The sales volume is the highest on record since it was first introduced in the country in 2002. The monetary amount of the sales is also the de facto highest, since the price per ticket was halved to 1,000 won from 2,000 won after the previous annual record in 2003.
Exact and detailed figures are due out in February.
Lotto sales had plummeted from 2003 after the government restricted the carryover of winning prize money. The ticket price slash in August 2004 also didn't help, and in 2005, sales fell to the 2 trillion-won range and stayed there until 2014, when they picked up to 3.04 trillion won. In 2015, sales increased to 3.25 trillion won.
Social analysts say the return of Lotto's popularity is relevant to the current slump in the country's economy, hit by a worsening job market, household debts and slowing growth. People tend to buy the lottery in hopes of getting rich quick during hard times, they say.
The government, however, sees the trend as a result of the increased number of shops that sell Lotto. The commission had not given new Lotto sales permits since 2003, but in 2015 began to give more licenses, giving priority to the handicapped and low-income family members. The number of shops selling Lotto increased from 6,015 in 2014 to 6,834 as of June last year.
"There is no proven correlation between economic slowdowns and lottery sales," said an official at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, which oversees the commission. "We expect Lotto sales to increase at a rate similar to economic growth starting next year."