The thirst for a lottery windfall has kept this family in business for years

By Conor Golden
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff


Lottery tickets and the vendors selling them are a common sight for expats and tourists in Costa Rica.

A person can see them in tiny booths, within shops, or walking in the streets shouting out the numbers and prices to passersby. Sometimes, the location is such a prime spot for the ticket-sellers that they will pass it down through the generations.

If a person walks through San José’s famous Mercado Central, there are a lot of things that they will notice from the get-go. What someone may pass by without a second glance are some of these ticket sellers including a little old lady on the southwest entrance of the market along Avenida Central. She is Wilma Piedra Castillo.

Doña Castillo has been selling lottery tickets at the same spot at Mercado Central for almost 55 years. She took over from her mother who had also been selling those lottery tickets at that very same spot since the 1930s. Now Victor Uhkol Carabjal, her 63-year old son, continues the profession spanning at least three generations in their family. Doña Castillo has not retired yet, however.

With a vivid red blanket draped across her lap and an umbrella providing some much needed shade for the 84-year old woman, Doña Castillo can be found every single day seated in the prime spot by one of the main entrances to the market.

Her hearing and sight may not be as good as it used to, but the handshake and knowledge of the ticket numbers is just as solid as ever.

She is at that place all the time, in fact. A mural of Doña Castillo painted around four years ago by a university artist covers the left side of the entry gate where she sets her lottery table every day from 7 in the morning until around 8 at night.

Both mother and son have seen their fair share of changes to San José and Avenida Central during the time they have worked. Her son recalled the time when the peatonal, or the pedestrian walkway that now dominates most of Avenida

Wilma Piedra Castillo and her son Victor on the job.

Wilma Piedra Castillo and her son Victor on the job.

Central, did not exist yet and was a simple road. They have both seen different stores come and go from the buildings that they gaze at everyday.

They have witnessed an increase of cars flooding the city when more Costa Ricans obtained enough disposable income to purchase them. They have seen the value of the colon drop and plenty of losers buy their tickets in the hopes of hitting it big.

The big lottery drawings usually are Sundays, but the government agency that runs the weekly event also has all sorts of other ways for gamblers to spend their money.

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