Here’s how it works. There’s a little board with 38 “little animals” on it. Each animalito has a number. If you pick the right one, you win: the payoff is 30 times your original bet. Put 1,000 bolivars on the little camel and if it shows up, you go home with Bs.30,000. You can bet on as many animals as you want.

Los Animalitos is all the rage. I hear people of all ages talking about it everywhere I go: workers, old ladies, housewives, kids. Even the Mangokistan resistencia guys were talking about it.

A statistician will tell you the house can expect to pocket 21% of the total gambled. For players, the expected return is negative. As with all lotteries, this one is rigged.

My neighborhood in Puerto Ordaz is the Las Vegas of lottery agencies, there’s a place selling Animalitos in every direction. Walking two blocks from my front door, I counted 13 places where they sell the game. Not all were lottery agencies though, some food stores are adding a second cashier to sell los animalitos too.

A while ago, I noticed that some clothing and electronics stores had started selling food. That makes sense: amid an economic cataclysm, people are spending only on absolute necessities. I thought that was rock-bottom, until we hit a new rock-bottom, that is: now, stores are switching from food to selling animalitos.

Even the Mangokistan resistencia guys were talking about it.

At 10 a.m. one recent morning, I went to a lottery agency to check it out: two cashiers protected by security glass. The glass was behind a metal grid for extra protection.

There was no line, but there were four people staring at a bulletin board with a bunch of papers pinned on it. Not previous results, but pieces of papers with what seemed to be clues about the next numbers to come up good. The numbers were arranged in a pyramid, on a grid, and appeared hidden in a caricature. It seemed silly to me that a number to win the lottery would be pinned to a board at the same lottery agency that sells you the ticket, but there they were four adults with their eyes fixed on it, looking for clues.

There was a lady looking at the animals and scribbling numbers on a piece of paper. She seemed like an expert at this, so I asked her for guidance.

“Which animalito should I play?”

Ay mijo, I don’t know, I’ve been losing for months.”

“Really? I’ve never played, so I’m really lost, what are all those numbers?”

“This one and this one turned up this morning” she points at numbers on the board, “so the next one should be in between these right here.”

I asked her what she would play, and she showed me the piece of paper she had. She had already played 13 numbers, and had spent Bs. 8,100 on them.

“Whoa, that’s a lot, what are you going to do with the money If you win?”

“I’ll help my grandchildren, they need me so much. Who knows, maybe God will help me, if the person that’s running this game will…”

The results would be published in half an hour, and she was just looking at the numbers to see if she could figure out some kind of pattern.

The monkey was her favorite.

She sounded really worried, and I just didn’t dare to dig deeper. This game is thriving on people’s desperation. Some are using it as a last resource to round out dinner or make ends meet.

I’ll help my grandchildren, they need me so much. Who knows, maybe God will help me.

I still wasn’t sure about my choice, so I went on to the next lottery agency. Two old men were speculating that the numbers had been coming out in ascending order: the 16 came out, and after that the 17, so the next would be the 18. A lady in her mid-thirties was looking at a picture of a roulette with the numbers of the animals on it.

I went to the next lottery agency (there’s no shortage, I’m telling you) and that’s where I found five kids dressed in rags buying numbers. They must have been around 7 years old. I tried to talk to them, but they were in a hurry. It’s illegal for kids to play the lottery, so they just bought the numbers and disappeared running with the tickets. All they told me is that I should play the horse.

I decided to go with the dog. Bs.100, the minimum bet.

A whole lore has developed around the numbers. Apparently, the scorpion stings twice: it’s liable to come out twice in a row. People swear to God that some days only animals from Africa appear, or water animals, or the zodiac.

Of course, all of this is bunk: as with any lottery, this one is purely random. Even if there had been a pattern to be discerned, the people I saw trying their hand at it were no Alan Turing. Still, they poured their souls into looking for some kind of theme, trying to figure out what the pattern might be.

There are people on social media selling the data for the next numbers for Bs.15,000. It’s a pathetic scam: if you really knew the next numbers, why wouldn’t you just bet on them? Still, desperate people are easy pickings… and picked over they will be.

This phenomenon has been flying under the radar. The media hasn’t really caught on. Luis Carlos —always ahead of the curve— mentioned it on Twitter, and he got people from Maturin, Sucre, and Guárico complaining about how widespread it has become in those places, too.

Predictably, I lost. It was the goat that day.

I kind of want to go and give it another shot, though. That’s the way lotteries work. I’m getting my reward system tickled or something.

Lotteries plus crisis is a dangerous formula, though. I know that goat meant dinner for a few people in Puerto Ordaz that day… and hunger for 38 others.

I’m just glad my chances of getting dinner are better than 1 in 38.

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  1. Yeah, a few weeks ago, I offered a guy bs 10,000 for about 4 hours of work. This guy has a wife, two kids, no job, practically nothing. The whole bunch are skinny as rails. Bs 10,000 is almost doubIe what anyone pays. I figured he’d jump at it.

    Ahhhh, no.

    “The monkey is going go win today and I need to be there”. The monkey? WTF are you talking about? “Animalitos”.

    Ah okay, that voluntary tax on the poor.

  2. Orwell couldn’t have predicted it any more accurately.

    “The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole tribe of men who made their living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets. Winston had nothing to do with the Lottery, which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed everyone in the party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary.”

  3. “This one and this one turned up this morning” she points at numbers on the board, “so the next one should be in between these right here.”

    Ah, the logic of the ignorant!

    I had a former brother-in-law (gambling addiction, among other bad traits) who used to insist that every time he lost, he got closer to winning. After all, “you can’t lose all the time”…. right? He actually believed that every loss improved his odds… that by playing (and losing) he was going to win!

    We have lottery gambling here in the US too. Some play it religiously. When the payout is really high, lines form at the convenience stores. It is always the same tattoo covered people buying lottery tickets they can’t afford. Usually they are buying cigarettes and beer too. We call it, The Stupid Tax.

    • “I had a former brother-in-law (gambling addiction, among other bad traits) who used to insist that every time he lost, he got closer to winning.”

      LOL, reminds when my old boss would say, “the sooner we fall behind the more time we have to catch up”.

      • that only works if you get a boost by being left behind, but life is no mario kart.

        Talking about addicted gamblers and irrational chance of winning beliefs (“insist that every time he lost, he got closer to winning”) makes me wish I had the money to run a study on people who gambled and people who gamble (people addicted and not) and present them with the monty hall problem and gauge their reaction to the explanation for the best chance of winning….

  4. Escualido!–“…chances of getting dinner better than 1 in 38”. BTW, lotteries in Venezuela have never been random (except, maybe, in MPJ’s time)–small agencies lay off played numbers/animalitos to smaller banks, which lay them off to larger banks, which lay them off to THE big bank (often run by “Arabes”), which assures that the lesser-played numbers/animalitos win–as with all in Venezuela, just another big cheating scam

  5. A tax on people that are bad at math, but even smart people very well versed with lottery statistics might be enticed (and occasionally) play. One can have a better chance to be hit by lightning or attacked by a great white, but there are documented cases of repeat winners, where the odds are in the several billions. how come? Why? Lottery administrator love those cases!
    What would you do with a multi million $ price? …would you bet 2 bucks to win? Can’t win if you don’t play! For somebody prone to bet, those questions are irresistible.

    $650 MILLION
    Draw Date: Wednesday, August 23, 2017

    Many lotteries also argue their aim is for a “good cause”…
    In basket case economies, it is not only the gambling lure, but also the despair of people that can’t see themselves out of the hole, potentially offering an easy out.
    And those are the legally sanctioned lotteries. There are millions of small “lotteries” that do not even register in the radar.
    Human nature. Now, would you bet a buck to win $650M? (The cash payout value is $411.7 million, which even after the 50% tax is $205.85M nice….).
    the odds are against you, but, good luck!
    PS: Personally, I never play. but no doubt, would be greatly amused if somebody I know wins!
    And anybody would have to be really dumb to play lotteries in Venezuela, but….there is a sucker born every minute!

  6. The whole hing reminds me of the numbers racket, imposed on US ghettoes in the 1930s. If you couldn’t sell them, you’d at least be a “numbers runner” taking bets from bettors and filing them with the store owner. It was an industry which grew on credulous, otherwise hopeless, people.

  7. I remember that when I high school (in the U.S.A.) that we read the short story “the Lottery”. In the story every gets to have a celebration to get ready for the “Lottery”. After party and much to-do, all the people come together and draw strays. And the winner, with the shortest straw….

    gets stoned to death.

    I’m not sure that result would be unwelcome in your county now. Good luck.

    And does your lottery involve free coke too.


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