Following government’s recent agreement with the Guyana Lottery Company (GLC) to allow the placement of gambling machines at some city bars, attorney Anil Nandlall has voiced concern that they are the same as the ones used in casinos but are not governed by the corresponding laws.
Minister of Finance Winston Jordan recently disclosed that the introduction of the machines at several city bars by GLC is part of a recently-signed five-year contract.
However, Nandlall told Stabroek News that the GLC machines are no different from the machines that can be found in a casino.
He added that while there are strict legal regulations and conditions that govern the operations of casinos, there seems to be “no law, no regulations, no rules and no conditions” which apply to the GLC machines.
He pointed out that the Gambling (Prevention) Act and the Regulations made thereunder, in essence, provide that before a person can be granted a casino licence, that person must be the owner of a new 150-room hotel facility. He said that this requirement limits the number of licences which can be issued under the Act per region. The Act, he added, provides that only guests of the hotel and foreigners who are above 18 years of age are to be admitted in these casinos. Further, he added that casino licences are to be granted under an authority established by those Regulations called the Gaming Authority, which is mandated to exercise a supervisory jurisdiction over them.
“None of these regulations and conditionalities apply to those machines that are in several bars in the city by the dozens. So it has become an absolutely unlevelled playing field, since the operators of these machines do not have to make any capital investment of worth, they are not limited by number per region and no age limit applies to them but they are being allowed to operate with impunity”, he said.
Nandlall added that when the amendments to the Gambling (Prevention) Act were being passed in the Ninth Parliament, the religious community came out in “all its glory to register its voice of objection. The Government took those objections on board and imposed those stringent conditionalities, in relation to casino operations. Today, I am not hearing a murmur from the religious community.”
A legal source expressed the view that the two situations cannot be compared as they are governed by different laws.
The source said that the arrangement between GLC and government falls under the Lotteries Act, while casino licensing falls under the existing gambling legislation.
Last Monday, Jordan disclosed the existence of the agreement between the government and GLC.
“I don’t know… whether these machines fall within the meaning of lottery games and so on,” he said.
Jordan did not say when the contract was signed but made it clear that Guyana would benefit from the proceeds.
He explained that under the previous administration, the company was granted one-year contracts. “Prior to May, 2015 it appears as though they were being held on a shoe string… they were being given one-year contracts and they didn’t know whether they would have survived or not,” he said, before adding that the company had asked government for a longer term contract.
“So, we give them five years with a renewable option and we set some condition[s],” he said, while adding that the company indicated that it wanted to be able to put out a range of new lottery games as an analysis found that some of the current games were “sagging,” resulting in the returns not being high.
According to Jordan, in return for granting the longer contract, government will get a minimum cut of 24% of revenue along with other funds.
“There was a complaint that there was unfair competition because Superbet…was there. The long and short of it is that issues have come up with Superbet, GRA and with the Gaming Authority but nevertheless they continue to exist. They said that it was unfair competition for them. They were paying taxes and so forth,” he said. Jordan added that he could not say much about the machines because he hasn’t seen them.
Based on what Stabroek News was told, some of the machines have been installed at Seeta’s Bar at Station Street, Kitty and at Blue Martini on Lamaha Street, Newtown, Kitty.
Prior to Jordan’s disclosure, Chairman of the Guyana Gaming Authority Roysdale Forde had confirmed that the Authority was aware of the agreement and insisted that it had nothing to do with it.
The issue was first raised at a post-Cabinet press briefing hosted by Minister of State Joseph Harmon on October 6. He was asked about the agreement between Government and the GLC and whether it is in keeping with the Lotteries Act.
Harmon, in response, said that those are questions for the Gaming Authority to answer.
“These are matters which are dealt with by the gaming authority. We have established these authorities and have given them independence and therefore we expect any matter in relation to that, the gambling authority could deal with it. I would not want to comment because it didn’t come to Cabinet in any event but I would ask that you contact the Gaming Authority for as statement on that matter,” he said.
Forde, when asked about the arrangement, made it clear that the Gaming Authority did not issue any approval or permission to the GLC to import or distribute any gaming device.
“We are aware that the Government of Guyana, not the Gaming Authority, entered into a contract with Canadian Bank Note, which is the Lottery Company, which permitted those machines to be part of the suite of games that could be played and presented to the public,” he said.
While not wanting to address the legality of the deal, Forde said that the government entered into the agreement with the company pursuant to the Lotteries Act. “I am not saying that it is in order.
I am saying that the Gaming Authority had nothing to do with the issuance of… permission or approval,” he added.