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Slovakia, Where Receipts Double as Lottery Tickets

[All links lead to Slovak-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

Bloggers are already ridiculing the new government-organized lottery and insinuating there is corruption involved; image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

“First toss of the [national] receipt lottery. ‘And the tax audit wins'”: Bloggers are already ridiculing the new government-organized lottery and insinuating there is corruption involved. Image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

Slovakia, which boasts the European Union's second worst tax collection rate after Greece, is betting on a national lottery to pull in more revenue.

It has been some 20 years since the country introduced the value-added tax, or VAT, but the so-called grey economy remains a way for retail and services to get around it. Many businesses and stores will offer to sell goods or provide services for a lower price “off the books”. When purchases are made in this way, the seller excludes VAT, often lowering the price of the actual good or service as well, to tempt customers to pay in cash so neither side will have to report any part of the transaction to authorities or pay any tax.

The government's fix is simple: every customer receives a receipt upon payment of any legal purchase. Once a customer has paid and received their receipt, they can register with state-owned company Tipos to enter the lottery using that receipt. Registration for the lottery is free and also available online, while prizes range from cars to cash.

The tax department also plans on using this lottery and all the receipts entered to check shops and businesses [sk]. All winning receipts and perhaps other receipts will be cross-referenced with the sales records of the shop or business that issued them, to make sure the receipt was not forged or the sale “faked” in any way, within 48 hours of picking each winning receipt.

Authorities have also warned participants of the lottery that entering with a forged or “fake” receipt will automatically disqualify them from the lottery. Authorities have not been clear, however, on the process to be used or how extensively they will be checking entered receipts and the businesses that issued them.

Slovakia's officials expect that this will make citizens more eager to get their receipts, which would raise the number of legal purchases, and that fewer business owners will risk issuing fake receipts, solving two major issues the government has had regarding VAT in one blow.

Those who are optimistic about the idea cite the success of Taiwan's similar tax lottery, which raised tax collection significantly. Those who are more wary of the concept point out that this kind of national lottery was an extreme failure in Georgia, where the government shut down the lottery just months after it was introduced.

Others are weighing their thoughts about it online. A reader on IT news site dsl.sk commented on an article that explained some of the issues the lottery site was having the first day of registration, referring to the fact that citizens tend to pay less for goods and services when they do not ask for a receipt:

zľava: Zaregistruj svoj blocek a mozno vyhras. Dohodni sa bez blocka a vyhras urcite.

zľava: Register your receipt and maybe you will win. Make a deal without a receipt and you will win surely.

Many are showing their discontent [sk] with making more money available to Slovakia's corrupt government [en] officials:

janosp: Tankuj v zahranici, bojujes s korupciou na Slovensku. Blocek? Od zivnostnika? Ja nechcem! … naco zivit stat? Naco posielat do statneho rozpoctu dalsie dane, aby ich SMER-ACI rozkradli???

janosp: Buy fuel abroad, you fight corruption in Slovakia. Receipt? From small entrepreneurs? I do not want to … for what, to feed the state? For what, to send more money to the state budget, to let it be stolen by people from the ruling party???

User refuge_ on this discussion forum replied to user janosp, saying that there is always the risk that money will end up in the pockets of the country's corrupt politicians:

A viete o tom, že ak tankujete v Rakúsku alebo Nemecku, tak daň, ktorú tam zaplatíte, sa k nám možno dostane v podobe Eurofondov?

And do you know that when you are buying fuel in Austria or Germany that tax you will pay there could come back to us through EU funds?

Another user, Zappa, and others like him have decided to simply disregard the whole idea, many believing it won't solve anything:

Zappa: ignorujem celú stupídnu lotériu už len s princípu

Zappa: I'm ignoring the whole stupid lottery already out of principle

Some netizens are saying [sk] this lottery already has winners. The first “winners” are companies paid by Tipos to render several services related to the lottery. Approximately 178,000 euros (about 240,000 US dollars) has been spent so far for the implementation of the systems used for the new lottery. There are also estimates that somewhere between 150 and 200,000 euros (about 200,000 to 270,000 US dollars) has been spent on creating an advertisement campaign and another 300 to 350,000 euros (about 400,000 to 475,000 US dollars) on advertisement space to popularize the lottery. A popular singer of the older generations, Eva Máziková, has been hired to be the face of the campaign.

A parody of the advertising campaign for the national VAT receipt lottery, featuring singer ; image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

“Always keep your lobotomy receipt!” A parody of the advertising campaign for the national VAT receipt lottery, featuring singer Eva Máziková. Image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

When asked by media [sk] and the public, neither Máziková's manager nor Tipos’ director wanted to say how much the singer had been paid for appearing in the lottery ads. Some have sarcastically commented that “maybe she will be paid without a receipt.”

Off to a rocky start

Despite big money spent on the infrastructure for the lottery, the system collapsed on the first day of registration, with an average of 300 registrations per minute. Tipos quickly made a statement claiming the system was down because of a DDoS attack. Readers of an article about the alleged DDoS attack on IT news site dsl.sk, however, were not buying into the story:

m8642: Jasne, DDoS. Rovnaka vyhovorka ako pouzil Statisticky urad pocas volieb. Ved kto uz mohol cakat taky velky zaujem?

m8642: Of course, DDoS. The same excuse was used by Statistics Office during elections. Who could have been expecting such big interest?

Another reader also commented cynically, attaching a link to Tipos site access history for evidence:

Houston: Utok? Tak mozno podla Tiposu … Takze kuk na linku Telekomu: http://www.six.sk/mrtg/telekom.html Ja tam teda ziadny utok nevidim, ci?

Houston: Attack? Maybe according to Tipos… So look at [Tipos’s] Telekom link: http://www.six.sk/mrtg/telekom.html I do not see any attack there, or [am I missing something]?

Other IT knowledgeable users on discussion boards took a quick analytic look at Tipos’ claim, debunking it several times over.

Tipos’ lottery registration system had several issues aside from the site's down time. Another IT news site reported [sk]:

Some people had problems with registering a Tipos account because Google mail recognized emails from Tipos as spam. Some other email services recognized it as an attack and blocked access from Tipos servers.

Echoing the cynical opinion of most, one netizen dubbed this the “Double Lottery” in an image posted on Cynicka Obluda:

Image parody of Slovakia's Minister of Finance explaining the lottery; image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

Minister of Finance: “We poured a lot of money into that thing with the receipts, but no one yet knows how it will end. And that's why we call it a lottery.” Image parody of Slovakia's Minister of Finance explaining the lottery. Image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

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