A compulsive gambler in China has racked up debts of 250,000 yuan (US$34,000) in just three months after she became hooked on lottery scratch cards.
Xiaofu, a 28-year-old woman from Shaanxi province in the northwest of the country, said she once bought 17,000 yuan (US$2,300) worth of lottery scratch tickets in one day at the height of her addiction.
Scratch cards have become hugely popular in China over the past two years because they are cheap, easy to buy and require no skill.
According to China’s finance ministry, from January to September 2023, the mainland public spent 428.5 billion yuan (US$58.7 billion) on the lottery, a rise of nearly 55 per cent year-on-year.
Instant scratch cards generated 86.8 billion yuan with an 80.7 per cent increase in the first nine months of 2023.
Not only do young people buy cards for themselves, they give them to friends and sometimes as wedding gifts. There are even life-streaming events online in which people excitedly watch each other scratching to win.
On the social media site Douyin, the hashtag #guaguale, the Chinese translation of “scratch lottery”, has attracted 9 billion views.
Xiaofu said her interest began innocently enough when a friend introduced her to her “little hobby” in August.
At first she bought two or three scratch cards at a time, but quickly progressed to an entire book of cards costing 600 yuan (US$82). At the peak of her addiction she was buying a dozen books a day.
Her gambling habit became so frenzied that on some days losing lottery cards piled up like “a mountain” at her feet, Xiaofu said.
“I just cannot control myself, and spend any money I have on the lottery,” she said, acknowledging she had become a problem gambler.
Xiaofu said she has watched the 2023 Chinese film No More Bets, which touches upon the issues of online scamming and gambling, three times.
She said she could relate to one of the film’s characters, a new graduate with a master’s degree, who became addicted to gambling and ended up killing himself after being scammed out of 8 million yuan.
The young woman said she was aware what she was doing was harmful, but could not stop. She said she became increasingly “greedy and unwilling to lose money”.
Xiaofu used credit cards and online loan services to pay for her habit and, by October, she owed a total of 250,000 yuan.
The biggest win she ever had was 1,000 yuan (US$137).
The root of her addiction may have been the unprofitable bar she was running with a friend when she first started buying the scratch cards in the hope of winning big.
Now, Xiaofu says she has “woken up” and found a new job to pay off her debts.