This policy brief is based on preliminary findings of research that assesses the 2012 Georgian Tax Lottery by Larsen et al. (2019). Tax lotteries are seen as a way to relatively easily augment public revenue while also increasing compliance. Tax lotteries are constructed so that consumers are nudged to ask for a receipt when making a purchase. This receipt contains information which can also be used as a lottery ticket with the possibility of winning prizes. Such tickets also leave traces of transaction records that allow revenue authorities to audit vendors. Given this background, the aim of this paper is to provide a broad, multi-methodological and socio-economic assessment of Georgia’s tax lottery experience in 2012.
A well-designed tax system improves economic efficiency, facilitates economic growth and social welfare, (Besley & Persson, 2013). Yet, curbing tax evasion remains one of the key challenges for policy makers, and institutions in charge of revenue administration are experimenting with diverse set of instruments to increase tax compliance and thus revenue.
In addition to the traditional audit-sanctioning mechanism, the taxation literature emphasizes the role of consumers in facilitating tax compliance of businesses. The government can create direct monetary incentives for consumers to request receipts. Turning a receipt into a lottery ticket with a chance of winning a pre-determined prize is an example of such an incentive. The tax lottery motivates and rewards those consumers who become part in the efforts to fight tax evasion by requesting receipts while making purchases. Given that audit-sanctioning mechanisms are very costly for the government, clever usage of a “zero cost policy”, such as tax lotteries, might be advisable (Fabbri & Hemels, 2013).
The aim of this paper is to provide an assessment of the Georgian tax lottery experience in 2012 using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The two methodological approaches complement each other and help to investigate the tax lottery from different angles.
The Georgian Tax Lottery
The Georgian Revenue Service (GRS) introduced a tax lottery starting in spring 2012, which was planned to run until January 1, 2013. The aim of the lottery was to popularize the already introduced General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) -based cash registers and make sure that they were used by vendors. Such registers would allow the GRS to gather information about business activities online daily. This, in turn, was due to an effort to fight the shadow economy and be able to audit business revenue, when payments were made by cash. The lottery would thus motivate consumers to ask for receipts. As a communicative resource, the lottery aimed to increase awareness of asking for receipts, as well as to develop a positive attitude in Georgian society towards GRS in the background of harsh fiscal reforms.
In order to participate, customers had to buy goods or services from a vendor who had a GPRS-based cash register. The receipt could be checked for win immediately by mobile phone. The Georgian Tax Lottery was a chance to win money for every customer purchasing anything from groceries, to shoes and hair care. The winning prizes were 10, 20, 50, 100, 10,000 and 50,000 GEL. The 10,000 GEL prizes were awarded once a month while 50,000 GEL prizes were given quarterly.
The lottery ended prematurely on grounds of inefficiency on November 12, 2012 when a new government was elected.
For the assessment of the tax lottery in Georgia, we employed a multi-method approach combining a qualitative assessment built on an ethnographic approach with quantitative regression-based methods; following the ethnographic approach, we collected opinions, experiences, and views on the tax lottery from the perspective of participating and non-participating businesses, consumers as well as other stakeholders.
The quantitative assessment of the paper investigates whether the existence of the lottery affected businesses’ total revealed turnovers through the facilitation of a receipt-requesting norm. The data for the quantitative analysis conducted in this paper was provided by the GRS. The latter was collected from the daily reports of the GRS system, for two years, 2012 and 2013. The data includes variables, such as the unique cash register identifier, the year and the week of a purchase and address (city and municipality) and the total turnover of the cash register reported through GPRS. GRS also provided the dataset with detailed information on winning tickets. The latter includes daily information on the number of winning tickets and the aggregate daily monetary amount of the prizes.
Three different specifications of linear regression models were run separately on the aggregate country level data. The model-specifications differ in a way that each uses different dependent variables – aggregate weekly sales, average weekly sales per register and number of registers reporting any sales.
Table 1: Regression Results of the aggregated analysis on a country level
As may be inferred from the country level regression results reported in Table 1, for all the econometric specifications the ‘lottery’ variable is significant at 1% level. The regression results show that during the weeks of the lottery (weeks 16-46) the aggregate weekly sales are on average 33,363 GEL higher than in the non-lottery weeks (11% more than in non-lottery weeks, based on the log linear model). When looking at the year effect of 2012 in non-lottery weeks, the effects are positive, significant, and, on average, amount to 38,813 GEL. This means that aggregate weekly sales in the non-lottery weeks of 2012, exceed aggregate weekly sales in 2013, on average, by 38,813 GEL. While in this simple model we do not explicitly control for the macroeconomic environment, GDP in 2013 grew by 3.4% while inflation stood close to 0%. These macroeconomic outcomes strengthen predictions of the econometric analysis.
When looking at the average sales per register as the dependent variable instead of aggregate weekly sales, the results are compatible with the results of the first model. There is on average a 282 GEL (7.7%) increase in average turnover during the lottery weeks compared to the non-lottery weeks; and average weekly sales in non-lottery weeks of 2012 exceed average weekly sales in 2013 by 458 GEL, on average. In addition, the positive effect and significance of the year 2012 variable shows that controlling for the non-lottery weeks, something was still driving sales up. This could be the long-term effect of the lottery weeks that continued even after the termination of the lottery; hence some evidence of habit formation.
A similar regression is done with the weekly number of cash registers reporting their income as a dependent variable. The outcome illustrates that during the lottery weeks of 2012, the average number of reported cash registers is 3,199 units (4%) more than those in non-lottery weeks, which is quite compatible with the results reported by the first and second regressions.
Despite seemingly positive results, the lottery was prematurely terminated after parliamentary elections in November 2012. Interviews with stakeholders revealed that the public budget that was allocated for the lottery was deemed insufficient to keep the chances of winning high enough and therefore interest and participation from public had decreased significantly from around 2 mln out of 2.5-2.8 mln receipts checked daily in the first months of the lottery to only 300,000 by the end of the lottery. However, there was a lack of financial resources or interest from the new government to invest additional resources to increase the budget and effectiveness of the lottery.
Regardless of its premature termination lottery itself was thought to have influenced social norms and also started a discussion about tax compliance. The tax lottery also aimed to improve citizens’ attitude towards the GRS. A qualitative analysis, based on multi-ethnographic approach through which we have collected media articles, reports, and other materials expressing views on the Georgian tax lottery, however, showed that strategies of “love and fear” are difficult to make work in combination, and we find it hard to say that citizens’ views of the GRS improved due to the lottery itself. Perhaps even the contrary could be proposed. In terms of an increased trust to the GRS, we conclude with our methodological point that a tax lottery cannot be assessed as an isolated event. Previous and other activities that the revenue services engage in that have an impact on taxpayers and on societal tax, compliance have to be taken into consideration. Fear and unjust treatment especially linger in people’s perceptions.
- Besley, T., & Persson, T. (2013). Taxation and development. In Handbook of public economics (Vol. 5, pp. 51-110). Elsevier.
- Fabbri, M., & Hemels, S. (2013). ‘Do you want a receipt?’ Combating VAT and RST evasion with lottery tickets. Intertax, 41(8), 430-443.
- Larsen, L., Arakelyan, R., Gogsadze, T., Katsadze, M., Skhirtladze, S., & Muench, N. (2019). The Georgian Tax Lottery of 2012. A Multi-Methodological Assessment. International School of Economics at TSU, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.
- Marcus, G. E. (1995). Ethnography in/of the world system: The emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual review of anthropology, 24(1), 95-117.
 The exchange rate for a Georgian Lari, GEL, is about 3.0 GEL to 1 EUR.
Many studies have shown that alcohol consumption is the main cause of death among working age Russian males and, in particular, among those younger than 40 (see Bhattacharya et al., 2013, Brainerd and Cutler, 2005, Denisova, 2010, Leon et al., 2007, Triesman, 2010, Yakovlev, 2013a, 2013b). A noteworthy example that illustrates this point is the decrease in male mortality rates during the Gorbachev anti-alcohol campaign. During five years of this campaign, which restricted sales and increased the price of alcohol, alcohol consumption fell by 40%. During the same period, male mortality rates fell by 25%. Furthermore, this trend reversed at end of the Gorbachev anti-alcohol campaign with the liberalization of the alcohol market and surge in mortality by the end of 1990s and beginning of 2000s (see Triesman, 2010 and Bhattacharya et al., 2013). These trends appear to be consistent with the idea that access to more alcohol is related to higher rates of male mortality.
Despite recent regulatory measures imposed by the Russian government to end this trend, male live expectancy remains low: it is 4 years below world average and below poor countries, such as North Korea or Yemen.
The economic literature emphasizes several features of alcohol consumption that are important for policy makers. First, alcohol, and especially hard alcohol, is a relatively elastic good. This implies that an increase in the price of alcohol as well as other costs (such as time costs) will result in an even larger drop in alcohol consumption relative to the price drop. If they are linked, this should also be associated with a fall in mortality rates (see Cook and Moore, 2000, Leung and Phelps, 1993).
Second, alcohol is a “social” good (Kremer and Levy, 2008, Krauth, 2005, Yakovlev, 2013a). People like to drink with others. Drinking often takes place in groups of peers, and peer decisions on whether to drink or not affect personal decisions related to drinking. Peer effects are especially strong among younger generations. The presence of peer effects implies the presence of a so-called social multiplier: the effect of government policy (for example, alcohol taxation) will be higher in the presence of peer effects. A policy such as a rise in taxation will not only affect an individual by encouraging them to consume less, but also have a spillover effect on his or her peers resulting in them drinking less as well. This should, overall, generate a larger decrease in alcohol consumption than would be the case through the effect on individuals alone (i.e. if people choose to drink based purely on their own preferences without paying attention to their peers or social groups). As it was shown by Yakovlev (2013a), for males below age 30, the peer effect increases the price elasticity of alcohol consumption by 50%. This means that a government policy, such as an increased alcohol tax, should generate a 50% higher decrease in alcohol consumption for the younger generation. Furthermore, this should also lead to an even larger reduction of mortality rates.
A third aspect of alcohol consumption is that alcohol is a habit-forming good (see Cook and Moore, 2000). The consumption of alcohol, as well as consumption of certain types of alcoholic beverages, tends to form habits related to these goods. These habits are strong and they potentially affect personal consumption even decades later. If a person starts to consume alcohol in their youth, this means that they are likely to continue and be more likely to consume alcohol in later years simply because they have a past history of consuming this product.
These three aspects have several policy implications. First, due to habits and peer effects, government policies aiming to reduce mortality rates by decreasing alcohol consumption will potentially have greater impact on younger generations than on older. This is simply because peer effects tend to be stronger among youths, but also because decreased consumption earlier in life will reduce the chances of consuming alcohol later in life and have, as a consequence, even longer term effects on society’s level of alcohol consumption. Thus, policy makers should pay special attention on younger groups of the population, in particular, policy tools such as the restriction of alcohol sales near schools and other educational facilities if the goal is to reduce the negative impact of alcohol on life expectancy. Second, the effect of this policy could be long lasting: once habits form, patterns of consumption could be affected for many years afterwards. In other words, the full effects of a policy aiming to curb alcohol consumption to improve mortality rates will not be immediately observed. Instead, part of the change in the future would be attributed to past changes in alcohol consumption.
Another aspect of alcohol consumption of importance for mortality rates concerns the habits individuals form regarding what types of alcoholic beverages, such as beer or vodka (see Yakovlev, 2013b), they drink. This has policy implications since not all beverages have the same degree of harm. If an individual consumes beer during his or her teens, she or he would likely prefer beer ten (or even more) years later. If she or he starts with vodka, she or he will likely prefer vodka. Moreover, Yakovlev (2013b) shows that beer and vodka are substitutes: an increase in the price of beer will decrease the consumption of beer and increase the consumption of vodka, or vice versa. Because beer is a less harmful alcoholic beverage than vodka, an increase in the relative price of vodka with respect to beer should improve public health to the extent that people switch to consuming a less harmful form. In addition, this effect should be stronger in the long run with individuals forming habits toward beer consumption at the expense of the more harmful vodka and, overall, we should expect morality rates to be improved as a result, although not by as much as in the case when people stop or do not consume alcohol.
There are several other features of alcohol consumption worth mentioning but which will not be addressed in detail in this brief. Alcohol consumption is correlated with not only personal health and well-being, but also with the well-being of others: it is associated with negative externalities such as crime, violence, and traffic accidents etc. Alcohol consumption also exhibits several “non-fully-rational” features such as time inconsistency or myopia (Gruber and Koszegi, 2001). In this case, a restriction on the times when alcohol sales are permitted could be a possible effective policy tool to reduce heavy drinking. This happens because people tend to underestimate how much they would like to drink in the future or want to drink less in the future than they expect, and thus prefer not to store alcohol at home. Finally, alcohol consumption is a substitute for other activities, such as sports (Tsai, 2013). Promoting these activities could encourage people to switch from alcohol consumption to healthier behavior, and, conversely, reducing alcohol consumption could foster greater levels of participation in sports activities.
- Bhattacharya, Jay, Christina Gathmann, and Grant Miller. 2013. “The Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign and Russia’s Mortality Crisis” AEJ: Economic Policy 2012
- Cook, Philip J. and Moore, Michael J. 2000. “Alcohol”, Handbook of Health Economics, in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed. ), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 3.
- Brainerd, Elizabeth and David Cutler, 2005, “Autopsy on an Empire: Understanding Mortality in Russia and the Former Soviet Union.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(1), pages 107-130,Winter.
- Denisova, Irina. 2010. “Adult mortality in Russia: a microanalysis”, Economics of Transition, Vol. 18(2), 2010, 333-363.
- Gruber, Jonathan and Botond K˝oszegi. 2001. “Is Addiction ‘Rational?’ Theory and Evidence.” Quarterly Journal of Economics (2001), 116(4), pp. 1261-1305.
- Kremer, Michael, and Dan Levy. 2008. “Peer Effects and Alcohol Use among College Students.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(3): 189–206.
- Krauth, Brian. 2005. “Peer effects and selection effects on smoking among Canadian youth.” Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d’économique, Volume 38, Issue 3, pages 735–757, August 2005.
- Leon, David, Lyudmila Saburova, Susannah Tomkins, Evgueny Andreev, Nikolay Kiryanov, Martin McKee, and Vladimir M Shkolnikov. 2007. “Hazardous alcohol drinking and premature mortality”
- Leung S. F., and Phelps, C. E. “My kingdom for a drink…?” A review of estimates of the price sensitivity of demand for alcoholic beverages. In: Hilton, M. E. and Bloss, G., eds. Economics and the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems. NIAAA Research Monograph No. 25, NIH Pub. No. 93–3513. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1993. pp. 1–32.
- Tsai, 2013, “Peer effects in physical training.” NES, mimeo
- Yakovlev, Evgeny 2013, “Peers and Alcohol: Evidence from Russia”, NES/CEFIR working paper
- Yakovlev, Evgeny 2013, “USSR Babies: Who drinks vodka in Russia”, NES/CEFIR working paper