Gambling with public lotto
Public lotto has been played uninterruptedly in Malta for nearly 85 years. Before the Public Lotto Act came into force in 1922, the Maltese played Italian lotto, which accounts for terms in use such as prima and ambo. Such has been the game's popularity that not even the war could disrupt it. It must have been a sorely needed distraction in those troubled times!
The game was taken over by Maltco, a subsidiary of the Greek gaming technology group Intralot when the running of lottery games was privatised two years ago.
Ever popular, lotto now appears to be under threat in a dispute that has arisen between the 200-odd lotto receivers and the company. The receivers staged a protest last week over what they claimed was the company's desire to reduce the game's winning odds. Failing this, according to one of their unions, Maltco has given notice that it will stop the game soon. Maltco has so far declined to comment on the issue.
Either one of the two actions - raising the odds or stopping the game altogether - would have serious consequences for receivers. Much of their income is derived from the commission they make on lotto sales and prizes.
Gambling can never be condoned, mainly for the reason that it can become highly addictive.
Gamblers' lives and the lives of their families have been ruined in pursuit of the next adrenaline rush that comes from anticipated winnings almost never realised. It would be a pity, however, if public lotto were to become less popular as a result of making it harder for people to win. Stopping it would be an even greater pity. This is because many punters, especially the hard core among them, would in both cases probably migrate to clandestine lotto.
When the Lotto Department was privatised, then Finance Minister John Dalli had said the introduction of new games should lead to the curbing of illicit gambling. Yet, those in the know say that clandestine lotto - indeed, illicit gambling in general - is still a thriving activity that the police are nowhere near putting a stop to. Driving gamblers away from the regulated game into the unregulated one would only boost criminal activity and reduce the government's income from the takings on public lotto sales.
Lotto receivers do not like Maltco's attitude. It would be fair to ask, however, if the company is happy with their performance. They are under no obligation to open at certain times, upgrade their premises or introduce new games to their booths. They have been given a free computer terminal and would now like another to cope during busy times. Should some of them be putting in more of an effort to help the company make a success of its Malta venture, which, in the long term, would be good for the lotto receivers themselves? The shabby look of some of the booths gives some cause for doubt.
On the other hand, did the Greek company make a misjudgement when it took over lotto? If it wants to reduce the winning odds, then it may be finding the payment of winnings to be too much of a financial drain to make the game worth its while. Should lotto receivers be made to pay for that mistake, in such a case?
Either way, both sides may need to show more flexibility in order to resolve their dispute. The receivers' livelihood is on the line and organisers of illicit gambling need little excuse to spread their tentacles even wider.