Auction offers lucky license plates

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's first auction of lucky license plates drew about a thousand bidders Monday, with the high bid -- $95,200 -- going for number 9999.

The winner, Communications Minister Suriya Jungrungraungkit, said he was sure his purchase was worth it, because of the luck it would bring, and because he could sell it at a profit.

"This is better than investing in the stock market," he told the auction, held at a five-star hotel and broadcast live on television.

Thais consider the number nine auspicious because of its association with the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose royal title is King Rama IX.

The second-highest bid of $47,619 was for plate number 5555.

The Land Transport Department, overseen by Suriya's ministry, organized the auction to address complaints that corrupt officials secretly sell lucky plates or allocate them to well-connected people.

Unlike vanity plates in the United States, which are mostly a mark of individualism, lucky-number plates in Thailand are a source of envy, associated with the rich and famous.

The Land Transport Department set aside 301 numbers for the auction, with the 42 most desirable ones sold Monday. The rest will go on the block Tuesday and Wednesday.

Most license plates auctioned Monday went for more than $23,900, almost as much as the cost of a mid-size sedan. The money is to go to a fund for victims of road accidents.

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