Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Government to issue four numbers licences

Govt to issue four numbers licences
Tribune Staff Reporter

LOCAL number operators will reportedly be asked to put up a $5 million cash bond before they are issued with one of what is reported to be only four issued licences.

As the government is currently mulling over whether or not to legalize the local lottery business, reports have started to surface as to how regulators would go about issuing licences for an industry that is already flooded with large and small scale operators.

Currently, there exists four main local number houses - FML, Asue Draw, NWS and Island Luck - that make up the majority of sales in New Providence and in most Family Islands, with eight smaller number operators filling in the gaps. Of the four larger entities, FML remains by far the most dominate force on which other, smaller, number houses "bank" their daily tickets as insurance against any possible "big hit" for a given day.

With the daily payouts having dropped in the past week from $900 to $800 for the dollar played during the Early Miami, Early Chicago, and Early New York lottos, local number operators have expressed their fears that the government could be "unfairly" manipulating the requirements to "price out" the majority of the current operators.

Currently it is being rumoured that each number operator would be required, along with the $5 million bond, to pay out to the government a certain percentage of their annual rake as a "fee", along with the actual cost of the licence which is said to be anywhere in the "six figure" range.

Also, it is being said that in their initial discussions on the matter it has already been proposed to limit the possibility of licences to "three or four", instead of a full-scale opening of the current market.

This report, however, is being frowned upon by many "smaller" number operators who fear that these requirements are being "hiked out of proportion" to limit access to the market, or in fact even open it up for "other more politically connected persons" to enter the field.

Speaking with The Tribune yesterday, one small number operator said that he fears he will not be able to stay in the business as there is no way he could come up with $5 million.

"That price is ridiculous. I've been in the business for a little while, and I want to remain in the business. Right now I have 32 people employed and for me to come up with that big bond, I could never make that.

"I don't feel that they should only give certain people a licence and kick everybody else out. If the government wants us to contribute $10,000 for every six months from every number house, that should be enough. Or whatever fee they want to impose, but to knock everybody out and only give a certain set a licence, that isn't fair. I don't see how the government could do that," he said.

While the government through Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has voiced its support for discussions on the matter of legalizing the industry, there has been little to no further discussion since.

In fact, when The Tribune attempted to reach a number of officials at the Ministry of Finance on the topic, we were informed that "no one" at their offices would be authorized to speak on "that issue" at this time.

April 21, 2010