BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Oct. 3, 2008 — -- Argentine discotheques are trying a novel approach to attract more clients -- young women in particular -- to their dance floors: a door prize with the winner getting free breast-enhancement surgery.
Argentina's night life has always been vibrant with dance halls, which often open at midnight or 1 a.m. and stay open until eight or nine in the morning.
But as the economy began to slow after growing at an 8.5 percent annual clip, there's been a falloff in disco customers. A number of club owners throughout the country began the promotion to try to stimulate business, and they claim they're seeing results.
The "breast raffle" started in a disco in the San Juan, the capital of Argentina's San Juan province, and spread rapidly to other parts of the country. It's generated strong revenues and strong criticism from different sectors of society. But the contestants are not complaining.
"It would be great if I could win the contest. I would get a breast-lifting," said Gisela Arraez as she waited in line outside the Sunset disco in a northern Buenos Aires suburb.
A friend of Gisela's, who would not give her name, said she is married with a 1-year-old baby. "With new boobs I would feel great, and I know my husband would feel real happy."
Fernando Maldonado, the general manager at the Sunset, told ABC News that the club plans to sell raffle tickets during the next two weekends, with the winner to be announced Oct. 17.
"We normally have 1,800 persons at our club on weekend nights," said Maldonado, whose club is known for hosting many local celebrities. "From the excitement that has been generated, we expect a big increase over the next couple of weeks, especially with young women, although the idea that many young women will be coming certainly doesn't hurt us with attendance of young men."
Maldonado doesn't see any legal problems with the raffle, saying the winner has to be over 21 to be eligible for the plastic surgery.
But many in the medical community and in government are up in arms over this marketing gimmick.
Guillermo Williams, director of health care quality control for the national health ministry, criticized the scheme, saying, "The law that regulates medical practices clearly states that medical treatments cannot be advertised outside of licensed facilities. One must say, a discotheque is not a facility to offer plastic surgery."
Dr. Francisco Fama, a plastic surgeon and director of the National Plastic Surgery Association, said that from a commercial standpoint, "there is nothing to stop a businessman from offering a surgery as a prize." He added, however, that from an ethical viewpoint, "it is not a good way for a doctor and a patient to connect. You can't raffle a breast implant as if it was a household appliance."
Argentina has one of the highest per-capita rates of plastic surgery in the world. The lure of Botox, breast enlargement, nose jobs, face-lifts, rounded figures draws people from all socio-economic segments of society. Public hospitals have offered many aesthetic-type operations for decades.
And in recent years, with the country's peso currency low against the dollar and euro, thousands of plastic surgery tourists from the United States and Europe have come to Argentina, many lured by Internet beauty junket deals that promise Botox treatments, a week on a big ranch, face-lifts with trips to the majestic Iquazu Falls.
The most recent breast raffle was held last Saturday night at the Aqua dance hall in the western Argentine province of La Rioja.
Dr. Rafael Fernandez, the plastic surgeon who offered the free surgery to the winning dancer, was publicly criticized by the provincial medical council's ethics committee.
At five in the morning, the winning door ticket was selected, and the prize went to Martin Palacios, a 22-year-old male journalism student at La Rioja National University. Palacios announced to the multitudes that he was giving the free "mammoplasty enlargement" to his girlfriend and fellow student, Romina Castillo.
ABCNews.com caught up with Castillo Tuesday, and she said she had just negotiated a deal that day with Fernandez to take cash instead of the surgery.
"We agreed to set a cash settlement of between 7,000 and 11,000 pesos ($2,300 to $3,500). I'm a student, and I'm only 20 years old. I need the money much more than the implant," said Castillo. "But a few years down the road I'd like to have the surgery. You know, I'm really thin, and I think it would help my self-image."
Asked if Palacios, her boyfriend, was disappointed, Castillo said that he in fact helped her make the final decision. "We went to the disco to dance, to have fun. We honestly weren't even thinking about the prize."But she acknowledged that many of the young people who went to the discotheque were intent on winning the breast-enhancement prize.
There were more than 2000 people, she said, a number borne out by the winning ticket number, 2,757.
Castillo said she doesn't consider the raffle a negative: "It's an advertising gimmick, nothing more. And in that sense it functioned quite well."
Similar raffles will take place in the coming weeks in dance halls in San Juan, Cordoba and Buenos Aires provinces. And in San Juan the discos are throwing in a runner-up prize -- a nose job!