Life on La Lune: Friday the Thirteenth – Lucky or Unlucky for the French?

Life on La Lune: Friday the Thirteenth – Lucky or Unlucky for the French?

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Friday 13th has arrived to France. Quick - buy a lottery ticket!

You have no doubt noticed that today is Friday 13th, a day when we Brits are especially careful not to walk under a ladder or tempt providence in other ways. To us, it definitely brings bad luck. But what do the French think about it?

The French attitude towards the number 13 is ambivalent (see my post on French superstitions). They regard 13 people at the dinner table as unlucky, for example. However, when it comes to betting, they consider the date Friday 13th to be quite the opposite. This is the day when the takings at Française des Jeux - the official lottery monopoly - soar.

FDJ, as they now prefer to be known, will be in the money this year. There will be two more Fridays with the date 13th, in April and July. This won't happen again until 2015. Apparently, on Friday 13th, 8 million people play compared with 4 million normally. At PMU, which runs betting on horse racing, the number of bets on a Friday 13th increases by 10%.

FDJ was set up in 1976 under the less catchy name Société de la Loterie nationale et du Loto national. Today, the state owns 72% and FDJ has the monopoly to run lottery-type games in France. It promises that today's cagnotte (kitty) for its Super-Loto game will be at least EUR 13 million. Then there's Euro Millions, played in nine EU countries, whose jackpot today is EUR 28 million.

You can see why many people rush down to the tabac to get their tickets on Friday 13th. Despite the growing popularity of online gaming, FDJ still does the vast majority of its business at retail outlets like newsagents.

Plainly, economic crisis is good for FDJ. Last year, its takings were EUR 11.4 billion, 8.5% up on 2010. FDJ gave back around 64% of this in winnings on its games. Twenty-seven million people in France spent an average of EUR 8 each per week on FDJ games in 2011. The state rakes in EUR 5 billion overall from gaming taxes every year.

I've always been in two minds about lottery games. They give a few people the chance to change their lives - and the rest the opportunity to hope that they might hit the jackpot. And it's good that almost two-thirds of FDJ's takings are ploughed back into winnings.

However, it seems to me that it's the less wealthy people that play and spend an average of more than EUR 400 a year each on it. I suspect they rarely get back what they spend. Of course, they have the right to spend their money entirely as they wish. But it makes me feel uneasy when I see people who don't appear to be well-off spending a lot in our local tabac on scratch cards and Loto tickets.

What do you think?

Reprinted with the permission of Life on La Lune.

Vanessa Couchman is a freelance writer living in southwest France since 1997. As well as writing research reports and magazine articles she also blogs about France, aiming to show life there as it is, warts and all. 



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