Inside Job: lottery ticket seller

Frank Hersey is trying every job in Beijing. This month: lottery forecaster

'Are you wanting your lunch?' Mr Li asks Tuanzi the cat in his lottery shop-cum-florist. It's now around 10am and the bulk of the day's work is done: we have updated the results charts.

I've long wondered what all the charts in lottery shops mean, so why not learn on the job? The charts are in fact nowhere near as complicated as they look. The complexity is in the interpretation.

Our first task is to update all the grids with the previous day’s draw results. I ask what all the numbers I’m writing in actually are. It’s pretty simple. Ready?

Instead of the date, you put the day of a particular game's draw cycle. There's a column for the machine used, then the numbers drawn and then more where the results are repeated, but in their corresponding inner columns for zero to nine. Then the important bit. I draw a line from the numbers picked two days ago to those of the previous day to show the shift. The final column is the sum total of the numbers drawn. You're hooked, right?

I try to get an understanding of the 'trends' emerging from several weeks of totally random draws. In the zone, I decide on the 3D game where you pick three numbers, and choose '6, 2, 6' for my 2RMB ticket.

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'Lots of people come in first thing in the morning, look at the results then head off to work,' says Mr Li. 'Then they think about the numbers during the day and come back to buy tickets before the evening draw.'

By 'people' he means men. Although some customers are women, he says, they're few and far between. As predicted, a fair few are coming in to study the charts.

'It's all about your own feelings,' says a customer analysing my 3D draw update. 'There's so many ways to play. Look at this totals column and the doubling here and this pattern here,' he says, pointing at all the things I didn't take into account when buying my own ticket. 'You know, rich people start with one wager and just double it every day because they don't even care!' He spends about 20RMB on tickets for the same draw. Other customers are less forthcoming about strategy.

One clear function of Mr Li's job is social worker. He chats to his customers about what they've been up to as the machines churn out their tickets. We're reviewing the scratchcards (guaguale or scratch-scratch-happy) when he gets a call and punches the numbers into the machine. 'I only take phone orders for people I really trust. I've been cheated before,' he says. 'With people I don't know well, I'll buy the ticket if they WeChat the money first.'

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Mr Li sits down below a golden plaque stating '300,000RMB won here for the 18 June 2016 draw of the Super Lottery'. It's his shop's biggest prize.

Although he seems proud that his shop offers both 'sports' and 'welfare' lotteries, Mr Li admits he doesn't think the gamblers really care: 'They stick with the games they first tried or won on.' Mr Li also mulls the numbers during the day before committing. His own top win was 'several thousand yuan'.

Any readers wanting to cash in on this lifestyle will have to wait: Beijing already has its full allowance for lottery shops and any newcomers have to queue for a licence.

I go back the next day to see if I've won. No. But I got one right and looking at the totals column, my three numbers add up to just one short of those drawn, so...

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