Friday 23 April 2021
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State lottery a ‘double-edged sword’

Lawmakers are currently debating whether to pass the Lotteries Bill or not. The Bill is historic for Namibia in the sense that it is the first time it is being considered in parliament. Although it is well intended, the bill could have serious financial repercussions on our citizenry if it is not well regulated. The Bill seems well formulated and clauses prohibiting minors from taking part, prohibition on unlawful lotteries and others brings hope that the State lottery will yield the desired results. The success of the state lottery will depend on the income generated, simply meaning on how much money gamblers lose. These gamblers will most likely be those struggling to make a living in a country where the living cost continues to skyrocket on a daily basis. The tourism minister must tell us how the lust for high revenues will be managed to ensure that our people are not left penniless.
Gambling can be done in a number of different ways, though the lottery specifically refers to games where players guess which numbers will be drawn from a pool of possible options. Lotteries are marked by extremely low odds of winning. Lotteries tend to effect people differently and can cause emotional problems. Many other problems tend to surround lotteries, including political and financial concerns. Several lawmakers have already expressed concern over the proposed law saying the state lottery will negatively affect the populace. Gambling is currently a serious addiction to many Namibians, so much that many will spend a huge chunk of their hard-earned income to for gambling purposes instead of feeding themselves. Some of the addicts includes our own lawmakers. And we all know that low income citizens account for most of the sales and that the sales are the highest in the poorest areas when it comes to gambling.
Another negative effect of gambling is gambling addiction. In the United States, an estimated 15 million people are affected by a gambling problem, of which more than 3 million qualify as gambling addicts or pathological gamblers. Players are not defined as problem gamblers solely based on frequency of play, but are considered problem gamblers if the gambling causes problems for the players. The minister must tell us how potential addicts of the envisaged lottery will be assisted because as much as we are trying to generate revenue to fund government programmes, the state lottery will create problems that other sectors such as health will have to take care of. The Bill must therefore clearly state how addicts will be assisted.
United People’s Movement MP Jan Van Wyk rightfully warned that a state lottery “will develop a growing gambling culture that will create social problems that will eventually have negative effects on the low and middle income groups.” Of course there will be those who will play the lottery responsibly, therefore it should be government’s job to ensure that everyone who plays the lottery does so responsibly and on a sustainable basis. Like DTA MP Nico Smit, we are all worried as to how the proceeds from the state lottery will be utilized.  The Bill makes provision for the income to be held in a Trust Fund managed by the Lotteries Board whereas as some will be transferred to the State Revenue Fund to advance governmental objectives. The minister needs to come out clear and tell us what these “governmental objectives” are, whether such proceeds will be ring-fenced to some sectors only and how it will be accounted for.
Smit also points out that the Bill empowers the Lotteries Board to establish a Funds Distribution Committee to “fairly and equitably amongst all persons who meet the requirements” give out grants to grant applicants. The Bill fails to state the prescribed conditions under which these grants can be given. Many supporters of the bill argue that money collected from the games can be used to fund public services, like education and health care. In many cases, however, legislative bodies tend to decrease the amount of funds allocated to the public service aimed at being supported by the lottery, and instead spend the revenues from the lottery on other things. There is very little evidence that supports an overall increase in funding for the public services intended to benefit from the lottery in countries that have adopted state lotteries. The idea to come up with a state lottery is a good one, but it will only yield the desired results if all regulations and systems are responsive to the unwanted effects that comes with lotteries. Therefore, for now the question on how the state lottery will impact the country remains to beg for an answer.

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