Happy Thanksgiving! I've had a lot of email requests from people wondering how to play the Panama Lottery. I didn't get it either, but I get it now! I think I’m ready to play the Panama Lottery and after reading this post, you should be too.
So many times I’ve passed by the people selling lottery tickets in front of the supermarkets and in the middle of the streets. Sellers walk around with books of tickets, knocking on car windows and approaching you in stores. I’ve had someone try to sell me tickets at a McDonald’s drive through and even in a barber shop. Every Sunday and Wednesday, the two days the lottery plays, you’ll see long lines at these lottery sellers’ tables.
People line up on a rainy day for lottery tickets
I’ve bought lottery tickets twice myself, and both times I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how much I could possibly win off of one ticket, and since many Panamanians buy several tickets with the same exact numbers, I knew my potential winnings on one ticket must be substantially lower than what those buying ten of the same ticket would be.
First, let me explain that the lottery, or what's officially called Loteria Nacional de Beneficiencia - LNB, is probably a lot different from what you’re used to in your home country. What I’m used to, playing the Florida lottery, is walking into a gas station and grabbing one of the multiple-choice-like tickets with the tiny pencil and filling out the dots for the numbers I’d like to play. Either that, or you just tell the guy behind the counter to print you out a random sheet, where the computer chooses the numbers.
Here, the numbers are pre-printed onto the tickets. And the most numbers you’ll find on a ticket is 4 (except for a special lottery I’ll get to later with 5 numbers). And if you want 4 specific numbers, you have to search for that ticket...and the tickets go fast. People line up to buy tickets with their kids’ birthday numbers or numbers they play every single week, early in the morning. So let’s say your favorite numbers are 16 (the age of your first special kiss) and 35 (the age of your special divorce), you’ll need to search for a ticket with 1635 or any other order of those numbers. You can’t just fill out a card with those numbers and receive your ticket.
Before explaining exactly how to play the lottery, let me try to explain how these people selling the tickets get the tickets. The main seller, or what’s called a Billetero, goes to the lottery building (La Loteria Nacional) and buys a book of tickets (he has to be certified by the General Secretary of the National Lottery) and can buy up to 5 books). He puts down a deposit for the book with the understanding that if a winning ticket sells from his book, he’ll get a set percentage of the winnings. Let’s just say 10% to have a number in here. He takes that book of tickets and makes deals with resellers (the people you see actually selling the tickets) and agrees to give them, let’s say 4% of the winning ticket.
Resellers hard at work
These resellers go out bright and early, set up shop, and sell the tickets they have on hand. The tickets they don’t sell, they have to give back to the billetero. He has up until one hour before the lottery plays to return his unsold tickets to the lottery building. The lottery plays at 1pm, so he has until noon to return the tickets and have them discounted from the total he owes for the book.
So how do you play the lottery?
I’m going to mention four different lottery games here. The regular lottery (Billetes), Chances, the Loteria Extraordinaria , and the Gordito del Zodiaco, plus some new games that are being played in Panama.
The Billetes (regular lottery)
This is the ticket with 4 numbers that you see most often and they cost $1 per ticket. The lottery numbers are picked every Sunday (known as Oro Dominical) and Wednesday (known as Oro Miercolito) at 1pm, live on TV (several channels) and on the radio. Every lottery game has 3 rounds, meaning four balls are pulled out of the cage 3 times. So four numbers are drawn for the first round, then four more for the second round, and four more for the third round. Here’s how the winnings go.
So, as you can see, those people who buy 10 of the same ticket, if they get all 4 numbers in the first round, they win $20,000. It's no Powerball, but it's a nice pot of cash.
Chances (the 2-number ticket)
These are the other tickets sold for the Wednesday and Sunday lottery drawings. The tickets for the Chances game have only 2 numbers and cost only 25 cents. You use this ticket along with the drawing for the regular lottery, but your two numbers only count on the last two numbers of the 4 drawn. So…
Here are the winnings if your 2 numbers match the last 2 numbers drawn in rounds 1-3.
Round 1: $14
Round 2: $4
Round 3: $2
So the winnings on these tickets are a lot less, but since they cost only 25 cents, some people buy a lot of them and hope to win $14x the number of tickets purchased.
Three times per year (in April, August, and December) this extra lottery is played. With this lottery, the winnings are much more, but it has 5 numbers instead of only 4. I don’t know the winnings of every round on this one, but here are the winnings if you get all 5 numbers in any of these rounds:
Round 1: $20,000
Round 2: $10,000
Round 3: $5,000
Gordito del Zodiaco
This game is played at the end of each month, either on the 30th or 31st and has 4 numbers. I only know the winning amount for getting all 4 numbers on the first round and that’s $4,000. So imagine if you bought 10 tickets with the same numbers. That’s $40,000.
Lottery tickets for sale in Chitre
Important extra info about playing the Panama lottery...
With any of these lottery games, if your ticket is lost or destroyed or if the numbers are scratched to the point they cannot be read, your ticket will be considered invalid.
If you want to have your children pull the winning numbers during any of these lottery drawings, they need to be between the ages of 5 and 8, and you will need to send a request to the Direccion General, and they will then send it to the Secretaria General (General Secretary). Then someone will call you with the date your child/grandchild is chosen to pull the numbers.
To collect your winnings or to contact the Loteria Nacional call +507-507-6800 or visit the office at:
Ubicada entre calle 31 y 32
Avenida Cuba y Peru
Horario: Mon-Fri 8am-3:30pm, Sunday 9am-2pm.
I just love saying that. But you have to say it right, with a little yell and a judo chop.
Just recently, they started selling scratch off tickets, instant lottery, called Pim Pao (or rapaditos). People are going nuts over these things. The winnings range from $.50 to $1,000. You can see examples here at the following link:
Advertisement for Buko Millonario
Something else that has sprung up recently, and is all the rage right now, is Buko Millonario, which is played on Saturdays and is pretty exciting. The tickets cost $1 and look a little bit like bingo cards. The 15 numbers are drawn live in front of a studio audience, starting at 5 p.m., Saturday nights. It's played live on TV and is a lot of fun, with entertainers and cool hosts who take their time drawing the numbered balls out of the cage, one at a time, stretching the drawing out for the full hour. The show plays on Channel 13 and on the radio.
Your card has 15 out of 26 possible numbers drawn. If you have all 15 numbers announced, you get to split the major pot with anyone else who has all 15 numbers. So far, no one has won this, and each time the Buko plays, the pot grows if no one wins, so right now it's up to somewhere around $360,000. It's funny watching the show because they announce at the end how many people have won and every time they announce that no one has won the big pot, the crowd cheers, knowing that next week the purse will grow. Each week, 45% of the week's earnings (from sales of tickets) will be added to the purse.
As you can see from my Buko card in the photo above, I had 10 numbers, meaning I won absolutely nothing. You don't have to get all 15 numbers to win something though. Here are some other ways you can win:
14 numbers - $5,000
13 numbers - $100
12 numbers - $10
To collect winnings, you simply go to the Buko Millionario office in Panama City. If you live in the interior, you'll have to come to the main office in Panama City if you've won the ultimate prize or the $5,000 for having 14 numbers. Any winnings under that amount can be collected at the Super 99 supermarket.
You'll just have to show your ID card or cedula and fill out the information on the back of the ticket. You have 30 days to claim your prize.
Well, that's all the info I have on understanding the Panama lottery. I hope reading this makes you feel a lot more comfortable with playing the lottery. I know I feel a lot better about it now.
Thanks for reading,