Odds and ends – the reason for this ubiquitous enthusiasm are not hard to find.
Betting introduces excitement, diversion and hope into the tedium and austerity of ordinary day-to-day life in the Soviet bloc.
Where living standards are low, opportunities for radical improvement few, and many pleasures and comforts hard to come by quite apart from the difficulty of paying for them, the ‘little man’s’ best hope is for a windfall.
This, of course, is precisely the kind of thinking which the Communists try in theory to extirpate from their society.
And the pay-offs in Communist-organized gambling games are not negligible, and not only are there dazzlingly large cash awards.
In Polish Toto-Lotek, an initial investment of 10 zloty van win as much as one million zloty; the first prize at a recent book lottery in Hungary was 25,000 forint, which is the average two-year income of a skilled worker.
In addition, many of these prizes are in amenities which are in short supply and cannot be obtained without a long wait or some sort of favored status: cars, excursions abroad, above all, apartments.
In the Bulgarian State Lottery, for example, 60 percent of the pay-off is in cash, 40 percent in goods and trips.
Apartments are probably the most valued prizes, and as such are being increasingly included. Cooperative apartments awarded as prizes in Hungary are located in so-called Lotto Housing Projects financed partly by by the Lotto fund.
These projects are in Budapest and the provincial cities. At a Hungarian Lotto drawing on October 7, 1960, the first prizes were two-room apartments, a one-room apartment, one-room family house, and a car.
Thus, it is that in the words of the Warsaw paper Slowo Powszechne, December 14, 1958 – the numbers games have become a national institution, a social phenomenon which with each succeeding Sunday is becoming more and more a set habit of millions of citizens.
Each year, several score of them join the ranks of millionaires, while a more or less equal number go behind bars because they were unlucky with the money they ‘borrowed’ from their places of employment.
The East European Communist regimes, and (alleged) public opinion, are distinctly ambivalent toward this particular ‘institution.’
Only the Kadar regime expresses no misgivings openly and promotes Lotto and other gambling games with unrestrained zest through the press and radio.
In Poland, however, the regime press began sometime ago to refer to gambling as a ‘national disease’ – in the same category as alcoholism – although it had earlier supported gambling as a source of revenue for the State coffers.
Slowo Powszechne also said that public opinion in Poland is divided into three camps on the subject: one demanding a radical move totally to eliminate the numbers games; the second – equally radical – maintaining that gambling is completely harmless and there should be no limit on the prizes.
And the third, which believes that people who want to play should be allowed to do so, but that the amount of prizes should be limited, so that after the initial period of widespread participation, the number of players will drop to a harmless level.