Sunday 28th September, 2008

 

NLCB gambles on four more years

 
 
 
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By peter balroop

Top National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) executives are confused about the directions for the State enterprise money-spinner announced in the 2008-2009 national budget.

And they’re anxiously awaiting clarification from Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira and her ministerial understudy, Senator Mariano Browne.

But they’re looking on the bright side, hoping that the NLCB’s popular games of chance, like Play Whe, Pick 2, Cashpot and Lotto, have a shelf life of at least four more years.

In fact, in-the-know NLCB executive sources say they are looking at giving Play Whe a shot in the arm by helping punters counter double-digit inflation by offering $30 to $1.

This will be a 20 per cent hike of $6 on each dollar placed on the winning mark from a selection panel of numbers, one to 36, inclusive.

Ruling PNM stalwart, NLCB chairman Louis Lee Sing was not available for comment in days since the budget was announced, since he was out of the country and is due back tomorrow.

Also not available for comment was acting NLCB director Phyllis Borde.

Bush Whe Whe

But the executive source, who asked to remain anonymous, disclosed that the NLCB had on the table plans to raise the Play Whe payout to counter the competition that “bush Whe Whe” bankers was presenting to the board’s legalised game, which has been in operation since 1994.

The source acknowledged that the purchasing power of a TT dollar 12 years ago had shrunk by nearly 75 per cent.

“We are trying to give something back; we are wrestling with it. But we have overheads and the bush bankers don’t,” the source noted.

The NLCB also was actively reviewing its Cashpot game, in the realisation that raising the choice of numbers from a pot of one to 20 to one to 25, in order to widen the base of the payout, had all but crippled the game.

He said the NLCB was considering going back to selecting the five winning numbers from one to 20, but the decisions on both Play Whe and Cashpot would have to be given the green light by Lee Sing and one of the Finance Ministers.

The budget delivered last Monday stated that the NLCB had been mandated to review its operations, with the specific aim at reviewing its operations to eliminate all games of chance “in the short term...”

But the source said in the wake of another threat voiced against the NLCB by Prime Minister Patrick Manning for the 2007-2008 budget, G-Tech, the NLCB’s technical arm in charge of orchestrating the televised games, got a five-year contract renewal.

It was this contract that gave the NLCB hope that it had at least four more years of operation.

“If we have four more years, why not operate all the games right down to the wire?

“We don’t understand what is short-term.

“Unless the Finance Minister meant that she expected the games to be phased out one by one.

“But that does not make sense, so we need some explanation,” the Sunday Guardian was told.

Board seeks clarification

The budget also stated the NLCB would have the responsibility to regulate casino gambling, and this is another area that the board is seeking clarification.

The NLCB had finally ironed out kinks at its play booths nationwide. For example, after having fielded countless complaints over the years from punters about excessive problems encountered to collect winnings (for example the $800 for correctly selecting the Pick 2 numbers drawn), the NLCB had warned booth operators to keep enough cash handy to pay punters and they were co-operating fully.

“Any punter experiencing problems to collect can call us directly at 623-1831 or 1833 and we will solve their problems in quick time,” the official boasted.

He said the NLCB had created more than 100 millionaires through the Lotto.

The board did not keep track of them after giving them their cheques, but, as he put it, the feedback was for the most part they had done well for themselves.

The board, he revealed, took steps to ensure that big money winners coming to the Duke Street, Port-of-Spain, head office to collect their cheques were not readily identifiable by members of the public.