The slow death of the German Lotto
Millions of Germans used to watch the Lotto draw on TV on Saturday nights. These days, participating seems more like something to be embarrassed about. There are new ways to gamble.
In order to be able to dream, Jürgen (62) needs six numbers. When he walks into the newsstand where he buys his tickets twice a week, he only has to hold up his 10-Euro bill so say hello and Claudia Britzke (49), the owner of Presse-Britzke for ‘newspapers, tobacco, Lotto and so much more’, will immediately display Jürgen’s tickets on the counter.
The 62-year-old lunch monitor with a silver earring is a Lotto veteran. He folds the tickets up with one hand and puts them in the pocket of his grey winter coat. Claudia slides his change, 5 cents, across the counter and takes a drag off her cigarette with the other hand. Smoking is prohibited in her store only officially.
Presse-Britzke is located in a quiet street in the Berlin district of Neukölln, which has always been home to social tenants and immigrants and the last few years also by fashionably dressed young people in their twenties, from Europe and North America. All of those groups play Lotto, Claudia says. She makes good money with it; one third of the turnover of her store. But it used to be at least half – the story of the German Lotto is the story of the beginning of the end of an era.
The Lotto-Toto-blok, the state lottery of our neighboring country, is a national icon. It was founded in 1948, during the time that Germany was still ruled by the allied forces. And to this day there is no shopping street in the entire country that does not have at least one façade with the signature ugly yellow light box with the red four-leaf clover displayed on it.
Unchanged since 1955 Millions of people used to watch the draw by a ‘Lotto fairy’ on Saturday nights.
‘The Lotto’ is often used by the Germans as ironic pars pro toto for the small-mindedness of the old Federal Republic. The game 6/49 has not changed since 1955, except for the amount of the jackpot. Millions of people watched the draw on Saturday nights, performed by a ‘Lotto fairy’, a young woman who would read out the numbers in impeccable High-German.
You can just picture it: a Wirtschaftswunder family on a Saturday night in the sixties; father in his easy chair, mother with her knitting or mending on her lap, the children with a perfectly straight part in their hair, straight out of the bath, floor lamp on, pencil in hand, all dreaming… of a Volkswagen or a vacation in Italy.
The government did all it could to make revenues as big as possible and the conscience of the citizen as small as possible: a portion of the proceeds goes to the district where you live, to be used for cultural events by a foundation – this is still the case today.
Nevertheless, the Lotto is no longer the Lotto. This can be seen in the declining numbers of the past few years and from research done by the Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung, a government-affiliated institute. In 2015, 22.7 percent bought a Lotto ticket; in 2009, 40 percent did.
Addicting There are two reasons for this: both are visible in the streetscape of Neukölln. Because next to the familiar Lotto sign, more and more ads by other gambling providers have been appearing in the streetscape: casinos, sport betting. It is especially gambling games that give results much faster than the Lotto that are most addicting, according to the research. To say nothing of online gambling.
Until 2008, the Lotto had a state monopoly, but those days are gone, thanks to pressure from European legislation. This is alarming to the state, because of the loss in tax revenues, but also because the commercial gambling companies don’t follow the rules as strictly. The Lotto does follow the rules strictly and that is the second reason that its popularity is waning. The mandatory poster with the odds of winning – for 6/49 that is one to over a million – is displayed on the windows of Claudia Britzke’s store. Inside the store, a grinning grandpa’s face greets the customer: the national Lotto coach, obviously full of good intentions. That poster also has a phone number for the gambling addiction helpline on it.
Jürgen (62) lunch-monitor and Lotto veteran The German Lotto tradition seems to be losing to another characteristic German custom: taking rules and guidelines seriously.
Claudia thinks most of the rules are laughable, but is forced to strictly monitor them. Several times she was aware of a lawyer coming into her store and snooping around to see if she was violating the rules. ‘I had to fight for my wine wall – because it supposedly increases the danger of addiction.’
But one thing all those rules have resulted in, Claudia says, is that people are embarrassed about their Lotto habit. Jürgen also prefers not to talk about it. ‘I’m a loser and I know it. I’ve spent more money on the Lotto than I’ll ever win. Unless I win the jackpot. But every time I walk in here, I get to dream a little. I have kids and debts, so I need to dream.’