By Al Edwards, Business Co-ordinator
THE LAUNCH of Jamaica Lottery Company's (JLC) Drop Pan has sparked a bitter war of words between the older lottery company and its new rival Supreme Ventures and calls into question the role of the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC).
Supreme Ventures was launched in June of last year with initial start up costs of $400 million with plans for an additional $100 million over its first five years of operations.
The company signed a partnership agreement with the world's leading lottery operator GTECH, an American company, which sees it act as the exclusive provider of lottery facilities, equipment and services to Supreme Ventures through out the duration of the ten year period which began in January of last year. GTECH expects to receive US$124 million in revenue over the course of the ten year contract and to retain a percentage fee based on lottery sales.
Supreme Ventures has made an impact with its Cash Pot and Lucky 5 games which has significantly eaten into its rival's Jamaica Lottery Company's (JLC) games lead by its established Pick 3 game.
Cash Pot is a variation of Drop Pan a gambling game long played in Jamaica particularly among the Chinese community. Like Drop Pan, Cash Pot uses numbers from 1 to 36. Players can bet on one or more of these numbers and hope that it corresponds to the winning number that has been selected. The Drop Pan game is steeped in folklore with each number assigned a particular meaning. For example, in Drop Pan 'dog' means 11 or 29 or 'chineyman' means 17.
The minimum wager for playing Cash Pot is $10 and boasts odds of 26:1. Players can also enhance their chances of winning by keeping what is known in Drop Pan as a kent. This is a chart displaying the winning numbers that have been played over a period of time and players can use it to guess what numbers might pop up next.
NEW JLC GAME
The new JLC game is called 'Drop Pan' and is played three ways. You buy one number from 00 to 99. Three numbers are drawn so one has three chances to win provided your number is one of the three. Three Way Drop Pan offers the buyer a 1 in 26 chance of winning. For example if you placed a $10 bet on your number, you would receive $260. There are two draws per day.
At the launch of the new game earlier this month, Chairman of the JLC, Howard Mitchell said, he saw the introduction of Drop Pan as a "levelling of the playing field in the Jamaican lottery industry."
Executives at Supreme Venture contest that the new game is causing confusion among the playing public in that the game is far removed from the original Drop Pan and is likely to cause confusion among Cash Pot players and the public at large .
An industry insider speaking to the Financial Gleaner said: "Competition is fine and must be encouraged but in this instance this JLC game is being passed off as Drop Pan where in fact Cash Pot is more like the original Drop Pan. Now there is no problem with having a consolation prize with Pick 3, if you pick two out of the three numbers that you can win, but you cannot sell the game as Drop Pan because it confuses the public into buying something from you that is not exactly what it is suppose to be. Drop Pan as we know it is a 1 to 36 number game and has been so in Jamaica for over 200 years (Drop Pan originated from the Chinese community and is played in the Caribbean particularly where there is a notable Chinese contingent).
"If you go to Nigeria it is played under a different name but the same structure of the game applies. That goes for South America to. In Trinidad they call it 'Whe Whe'. Therefore to advertise something that is not the real game confuses Supreme Ventures'customers and the public at large. Over the last two years Supreme Ventures has spent millions of dollars familiarising the public with the game of Cash Pot which is based on Drop Pan."
Of late the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission has come under fire for the way it operates with leading industry players calling for it to be properly structured. There is currently a clamour for the implementation of a framework that governs how it goes about its business so that the whims and fancies of the Board does not lead to decisions that send ambiguous signals to the industry which is currently undergoing an expansion with new players entering and redefining gaming in Jamaica.
The Chief Executive Officer of Track Price Plus Ltd., (the largest bookmaker on the island), Xavier Chin said:" In my estimation the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission holds back the industry, it is a negative force on betting and gaming. It is almost two years since I sent a proposal to the Commission outlining a level playing field for bookmakers and I am yet to hear from it. We are still in limbo.
"We are regulated to close at a certain time on a local date, for example half an hour before the first race is run. We are guided by rules that were implemented in 1966 but yet we have new gambling entities that have entered into the industry since then. These new players are not guided by those rules laid down in 1966 and they have brought something new to the industry.
We now have a new lottery company that is able to sell their games throughout the day and it is not regulated in the sense that there is nothing preventing the company from selling their games a hundred yards from a church or school, yet if I open a betting shop I must do so at a certain distance from a church or school, and I must get permission to open my business and then close it at a certain hour.
"We sell English racing but can't do so after 12 noon on a Wednesday and Saturday because we have to close half an hour before the first race runs at Caymanas. The thinking is if we were to begin selling after noon we would be taking away from their dollar which could be spent on their product, which is silly because there are certain people who will not gamble on local racing and want the English racing and there are people who will gamble only on American racing. There are those who believe that local racing is not fair and look elsewhere. I think the Commission as it stands now simply wants to just regulate and will not countenance change. We feel that the playing field needs to be level or else we will never get forward. Let's not forget the more gambling you have the more cash you have turning over and the regulations we have now restricts business."
Mr.Chin believes that if the opening times were opened up and operators were
allowed to sell whatever they wanted then more people would gamble and there would be less underground gambling.
"We want a Board that understands the business of gambling and encourages it. Some bookmakers have computerised their business and therefore they have become more transparent and so all the revenue is there to see. We have asked the Government for an incentive to encourage bookmakers to go that route but we have yet to hear from its representatives. As it stands now we are over regulated. Do you know that under the current Betting and Gaming Act, the bookmaker is unable to advertise yet still the Commission turns a blind eye to us advertising. When it suits it, it turns away and when it doesn't it says oh, this is the rule, here it is written in black and white."
WAR OF WORDS
In the on going war of words concerning Drop Pan, JLC executives maintain that its new Drop Pan game is not a new game but a bet type of Pick 3. Supreme Ventures has brought it to the Commission's attention that the new JLC game is sold as a different game and is not done so as Pick 3, indeed it is clear that it is marketed as a separate game. The Commission has made it clear that it has noted operators concerns and that the entire industry is currently undergoing a review.
"We have proven to the Government that we could expand the market. Since we opened our doors for business, we have done $12 billion in revenue in under two years. For the first set of licensing fees, we paid $2 million per game which totals $6 million. In the second year the Commission asked us for its licensing fees and they took our money. You can't hold us up from April till now and say that you are investigating rules and regulations. We have a game to be launched which we have paid for, yet our competitor can go ahead and launch new games," said a senior manager at Supreme Ventures. When we were given the licence we were told that we were given a 'bly' because we are new but you can't run a gaming industry like that."
Supreme Ventures cannot launch its Keno game called Dollars until it gets the nod from the Commission and it has no idea when that will be. It is concerned that its partner GTECH which is an investor and also provides the software for the games will worry about its investment and is of the view that this kind of administrative pause does not auger well for other foreign investors looking at Jamaica.
Craig Coverman, a lottery executive seconded to Richard Branson's lottery enterprise in the UK speaking to the Financial Gleaner yesterday from Yorkshire said: "It is important that your gaming commissioners are of the highest integrity and it is better still if they have some experience in the gaming industry. I heard about Clive McCulloch's suicide and that does the Jamaican Commission no favours I can tell you. Then you started a telephone lottery down there, whatever happened to that? Did your people get to see and hear about the winners? Has it clearly been established why it failed ? These are all warning signs for any Commission because with gaming credibility is everything."
The new Minister of Tourism and Industry, Aloun Assamba has made it clear that she will not dismiss the idea of casino gambling in Jamaica but will examine the possibilities of it becoming an integral part of the country's tourism product. This will have to entail how it will be regulated and an examination of how this is done in states where casino gambling is permitted (Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, and the Bahamas) and the Commission may well have to ready itself for an international clientele. What is apparent is that gaming is becoming a burgeoning industry in Jamaica in need of the necessary checks and balances but done so in a way that is equitable and allows for inventiveness and not chicanery.
On allegations that JLC is piggy backing on Supreme Ventures' Cash Pot game and that the Commission has no understanding of its industry, The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission's Chairman Howard Mollison was unavailable for comment yesterday but earlier this month declared that the Commission was completing a comprehensive review of the industry and that the results would be known before the end of this year.