GLO mulls huge B600m jackpot

GLO mulls huge B600m jackpot

Planned new lottery triggers fears of gambling epidemic

One lucky lottery player could walk home with a winning jackpot of up to 600 million baht under a new scheme being planned by the Government Lottery Office (GLO).

Although full details have not been disclosed, the plan drew mixed responses after it was unveiled yesterday by GLO director Maj Gen Chalongrat Nakartit.

Maj Gen Chalongrat said it will differ from the current lotto in that prizes will be rolled over to two subsequent draws if no winner steps forward.

Moreover, the jackpot can hit 600 million baht if ticket sales pass 1 billion baht, he said. The current jackpot cap for an 80 baht ticket is 6 million baht.

Players will also have greater access to numbers regarded as auspicious because, unlike the current system, these will not be limited or reserved for clients by traders, he added.

The remodeled lotto is being designed to draw punters away from underground gambling activities estimated to be worth several hundred billion baht a year, the GLO director said.

That money all goes to bookmakers at the expense of the state, he said, noting the GLO is legally required to send 28% of lottery revenue to the Finance Ministry.

But there are no indications the new lotto will be rolled out anytime soon.

According to Maj Gen Chalongrat, the scheme will be proposed to the GLO board in September for consideration, with an assessment study likely to follow.

He said that under the 1974 Lottery Act -- which does not permit rollovers -- the GLO cannot introduce a new lotto.

However, draft amendments to the legislation that have already been cabinet approved will make it possible for a new version to be rolled out.

The amendments are now being put up for public feedback. He said the traditional lottery would not be scrapped.

The proposal has won support from Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, dean of the College of Social Innovation at Rangsit University and a member of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA).

He said that the government should legalise gambling or lose out on massive potential revenue as Thais flock overseas to indulge in the pastime.

According to Mr Sungsidh, the public is divided into two schools when it comes to gambling: Those with strong religious beliefs see it as a vice while for others it is a recreation they are entitled to.

Nonetheless, protective measures must be put in place such as imposing minimum age limits and having players' identities verified, he said.

Families can petition a gambling commission to order their relatives to refrain from playing if doing so threatens the family's financial security, he added.

He also suggested that proceeds from lotto sales should be set aside to fund social welfare and education projects. Alternatively, non-government agencies could use some of the money to raise awareness about the perils of gambling, he said.

Any national lottery must be strictly controlled to make sure the proceeds are not abused, he said, pointing to the mistakes made under the former Thaksin Shinawatra government with its two-digit and three-digit lottos.

Thanakorn Komkris, secretary-general of the Yoot Phanan (Stop Gambling) campaign, criticised the plan.

He said the proposed jackpot would effectively promote gambling, which goes against the practice of GLO board chairman Apirat Kongsompong, who scrapped jackpots when he assumed the post.

He said Lt Gen Apirat's actions won praise from the public including his group.

"We're concerned about the frequency of the draws. The national lottery run by the GLO takes place twice a month. We call it 'soft' gambling," he said.

"As draws become more frequent, we move closer to 'hard' gambling. Take football bets, for example. People can make bets all the time," he said.

Mr Thanakorn also raised questions about the venues where the new lottery would be made available. He said vendors of traditional lottery tickets would face fierce competition.

"Where are the vending machines to be located? If they are put in convenience stores, the new lotto would benefit big business rather than small stores or operators," he said.

This would also make it easy for young kids to be seduced by gambling, he added.

He demanded to know what measures the GLO plans to take to show its social responsibility.

"The GLO is under pressure to bring in more money to the state, but it also has a responsibility to consider the consequences," he said.

"We don't believe a new lotto will draw people away from underground gambling. Those who operate illegally will just adapt."



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