The Lotto, an economics teacher friend of mine has long insisted to me, is nothing but “a regressive tax on black people.”
That’s probably also true of Play Whe, Pick Two, Pick Four and Scratch and, indeed, the National Lotteries Control Board’s whole range of online games. And not being a church man himself, my friend adds that it’s the only tax he knows of which Trinidadians voluntarily pay!
I have never found the cojones to tell him about my tithes.
Anyway, as regards the first statement, I have long suspected that he was right all along but the hard evidence came to me only last week Wednesday when the jackpot was $25m.
Seduced by the lure of unfilthy lucre, I accepted an invitation from my sousou organizer to join a syndicate. I ended up in Central Trinidad, looking for Lotto luck.
Incredibly, the queue looked like something I’m used to seeing at football—and now, since Brian Lara’s retirement, cricket—matches. On a Wednesday. In mid-morning. Which, come to think of it, is unsurprising. Twenty-five million dollars is a lot of money which can go a long way.
And since the ordinary citizen seems to have the impression that the vast majority of the money won so far in the Lotto has ended up south of the Caroni Bridge, said ordinary citizen is prepared to go a long way to Penal and Siparia and Princes Town in search of it.
So that’s largely why Citizen Best ended up in Freeport in mid-week. And I joined the loooooooooooooooooooooong queue. Which, for those who know me, is hard, very hard to believe.
But that gave me pause. When I go to the bank and I see ten people in the line, that’s it! ATM time. Or I go back on the morrow.
So why did I line up behind 40-plus people? Because 25,000,000 tax-free dollars is a lot of money, that’s why!
And if Westmoorings and Haleland Park can turn up their noses at such piddling sums, Enterprise and Endeavour and environs literally cannot afford to do the same.
And Arima and environs where I live can’t afford it either.
Interestingly, the 50 Quick Picks bought in Central yielded not so much as a three-number combination. And the 150 bought elsewhere yielded a solitary free Quick Pick.
But further confirmation came a day later when the jackpot moved overnight from an estimated $25m—the NLCB web site shows that the actual figure was $24, 379,523.31—to an estimated $30m.
How much of that “estimated” $5m do you think came from the corporate sector? Or from the Abouds, the Chin Lees, the Sabgas or the Stollmeyers?
And what are the real chances, you think, that a lot of it will end up in Morvant, Moruga or Moriah?
Also, what would be the country’s reaction if, with a Keith Rowley Government in power, we had all woken up to the Sunday news that the Saturday night’s $30m draw had been won by a ticket bought and sold in Mason Hall?
The current $30m jackpot began as $2m in mid-August and grew to just over $3m by the middle of the election week. In the two months since, it is $27m richer.
Writing in today’s Sunday Express, UWI lecturer Noel Kalicharan raises concerns about the way “the NLCB “rigged” the system in its favour every time they tweaked it.” And their lack of forthrightness was already not sitting well with ordinary T&T.
In Friday’s Express, Sue-Ann Wayow questions Winston Siriram about why no one is winning the Lotto. Not unexpectedly, the NLCB Chairman gives the assurance that all is above board.
But Wayow never asked the crucial question of whether things are above Board.
Shouldn’t she have asked whether, even though the NLCB can’t rig the Lotto results, they are riggable? I would also have liked to know whether Government makes any investment in the NLCB and, if yes, what returns the Government gets therefrom?
Siriram was at pains to explain that the difference between actual receipts and estimated prize money goes to “our administrative costs, commission for agents, etc.” I would have been rather more curious about that “etc” than was Ms Wayow.
Small wonder then that Kathleen Pinder, a letter writer in the same paper, remains unconvinced. Not “confident of its fairness,” she wants the public “re-invited to view and participate in live drawings (…) to ensure transparency.”
“We are acutely aware,” she writes, “that for some years now the frequency, the jackpot sizes, the locations of winning ticket purchases and numbers of jackpot winners changed to the detriment of the vast majority of the population.”
My sense is that Ms Pinder feels that the Lotto which started in July 1994, may not have escaped the contagion of the 2010-2015 regime whose Sadim—spell it backwards!—hands corrupted almost everything they touched.
Yet, she doesn’t go so far as to call for it to be stopped. Maybe she would have had she had the albeit anecdotal evidence that I have.
The NLCB has said that it is impossible for the same machine to generate the same Quick Pick combination more than once for any one draw. But I know a man who knows a man who has—or claims to have—convincing evidence that it is NOT at all impossible.
So what would happen if the Government of Trinidad and Tobago were to decree tomorrow that the Lotto is to be discontinued?
One can’t be sure but, unsure where their next meal is coming from and unable to delude themselves at least temporarily that salvation may be found in the Lotto/PlayWhe booth, many people are not unlikely to explore other get-rich-quick options, not all of them socially acceptable.
For one thing, crime would go up, am I right, Akins Vidale?
If Carnival is an annual escape valve, Lotto and Play Whe are its daily equivalent. So without them, insanity would increase as would, as a corollary, domestic abuse.
Moving in the opposite direction would, of course, be employment and, less obviously, absenteeism. Since the mid-morning draw was introduced, a lot of local employers now have to allot a lot of Lotto time-off to a lot of people.
And what would happen to poverty?
I’m sure, as we Trinis like to say, it might go down. All those five and ten dollars which now get “invested” in NLCB products might well find their way into more potentially lucrative areas such as hard drugs. And with the new government pushing the local government theme, maybe all those whe whe turfs that the NLCB put out of business would get a new lease on life.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. There’s a good reason why poor black people aren’t allowed to win the Lotto often; it’s bad for us all.
The first Lotto millionaire, an ordinary citizen in the Borough of Arima, was flat broke three years later. And this was back in the day when a million dollars was, well, still worth a million dollars.
The probably apocryphal story goes that, asked what he had done with the money, he replied that he had spent one quarter of it on women, one quarter on drinking with his friends and one quarter partying and feteing down the place.
“And the last quarter?” the interviewer enquired.
“Ah think,” came the unexpected answer, “ah mighta waste dat.”