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HomeCosta RicaExpat Living: The Very Local Lottery in Costa Rica

Expat Living: The Very Local Lottery in Costa Rica

Does the church need a fresh coat of paint? The local school is in need of a new classroom? The kids’ soccer team needs new uniforms? There’s only one thing to do… a tiny lottery.

The tried-and-true Tico way to earn some cash for a problem that needs solving is selling números. It’s community-based fundraising with the spice of gambling. The system is simple. A community member, usually a nice lady, shows up at your house, gives you a shout in the street, or tracks you down at the local supermarket and gives you a quick spiel about what they’re raising money for and how you can help by buying a number.

You hand over the cash (usually between 500 and 1,000 colones, sometimes up to 5,000 for high ticket items) or move forward on credit (they know you’re good for it) in exchange for a little piece of paper with a number on it. The numbers lady will undoubtedly ask you which number you prefer because to her, and I’m assuming most Ticos, the specific number you get is very important and has a huge influence on whether you will win or not.

When I make the same mistake that I always make saying to give me whatever number they want, it doesn’t matter to me, I provoke the same confused/concerned look that I just said something really stupid. I then choose a random number with confidence so we can move this interaction forward and I can receive my little piece of paper.

Usually that’s the end of it. There’s some drawing that happens on a date that I don’t know about somehow related to the national lottery system and somebody that I don’t know wins something awesome. Somebody out there in the world is happy because they’re a winner, something that needs to be funded in the community gets funded, and I get to feel good about contributing. Everybody wins.

But sometimes, the impossible happens. We win! I say we because we participate in these tiny lotteries as a family. More accurately, I personally participate in about five per year. My wife, who has worked in community-based organizations for more than a decade and is always deep in the mix of the hyper-local fundraising scene, participates in approximately one million tiny lotteries per year. If somebody’s selling a number, they are for sure, stopping by Lindsay’s office.

Here’s a quick list of things Lindsay has signed us up to try to win – a basket of food, a bottle of liquor, a baby pig, a baby cow, a rack of ribs, a cooked chicken/bottle of Coke combo, a bedspread, a fan, a set of fake eyelashes, etc.

In the end, after years of endless tiny lottery participation, we’ve come away winners a grand total of three times. Once, we won a 60 thousand colones shopping spree at a local super (it was amazing). We won some cash once (who doesn’t like cash?). Our other big win was a panini press that we eventually resold on Facebook.

For sure, one of these days Lindsay is going to come home and break the news to me. We won a baby cow! I’m not sure what happens after that. Maybe keep your eye out for another article in the Tico Times – Baby Cow Ownership in Costa Rica.

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at:

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