Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
When the Christian Lenten season comes to an end on Easter Monday, April 1, it will become legal for consumers to purchase tickets for their lottery game of choice every day of the week, including Sundays and public holidays.
This was part of the new tax measures announced by Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips in Parliament on Tuesday to increase revenue earnings and assist the country in better managing its $1.7-trillion debt. Lottery companies will also be asked to pay more gross-profit taxes.
However, this has not gained the blessing of church leaders, who remain resolute against all forms of gambling.
"The fact that the Government is continuing to use gambling as a means of gaining revenue for the country does not sit well with us, and never will," said Pastor Everett Brown, president of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
Brown said it did not matter what the minister announces, "whether it's Sunday, public holidays or any day of the week, we do not support gambling in any form. We cannot support gambling as a means to generate income, whether for the country or any individual."
Pastor Charles Francis, of the Faith United Church of God International, said the announcement came as no surprise.
"I have seen so many church values put aside by society that this is just another move to remove moral values out of society," Francis lamented.
He said whatever move the Government makes, the Church would remain resolute in its stance against gambling and all forms of immorality.
The Reverend Karl Johnson, general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union, also stressed that the Church still opposed any form of gambling as an economic strategy.
"Whether it is Sunday, Saturday, Monday or Tuesday, we are still standing in opposition to any form of gambling and, hence, we would still resist using and utilising any such proceeds in the development of any of our causes. We do not believe that the ends justify the means," said Johnson.
He added that, speaking strictly as a Christian and a Jamaican, what he was seeing was a country that has run out of options and that when people are out of options they do things they would not ordinarily do.
"What I am seeing coming out of the Government is an act of desperation. When you look at the entire tax package, you get a sense of what the medicine that we were being prepared for almost two years ago is beginning to taste like," Johnson told The Gleaner.
"We have not heard much about the safety net for the poor and vulnerable, and I await that announcement."
He noted that what was needed was everyone coming together to create a vision for the country without a political agenda.
Under the new amendment to the fee and gross-profit structure for betting, gaming and lotteries, the lottery tax (gross-profit tax) would increase from 17 per cent and 23 per cent to 20 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.
Tax on Cash Pot, Lucky 5, Pick 3, Instant Games, Pick 2 and Pick 4 will increase from 17 per cent to 20 per cent, while tax on Dollaz, Lotto and Super Lotto will increase from 23 per cent to 25 per cent.
The Government is anticipating that the increase in lottery tax and days of sale come April 1 will yield approximately $1.5 billion for its $15.9-billion tax package.