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Special Report | Sep 9, 2017

Ending The Era Of Illegal Lottery

Melvin Tarlue
 Kofi Osei Ameyaw addressing the media on the sidelines of one of the engagement series with the stakeholders
Kofi Osei Ameyaw addressing the media on the sidelines of one of the engagement series with the stakeholders

THE GLOBAL lottery industry is a multi-billion dollar business and according to the World Lottery Association, in 2015, the global lottery industry saw sales of $279.9 billion, and down slightly in 2014.

The association's latest Quarterly Lottery Sales Indicator for the first nine months of 2016 suggests that growth has returned to the industry, which continues to raise many billions of dollars for good causes around the world each year, reports Total Gaming (TG).

Making it big from the industry means government or state institutions in-charge of the sector have to take every necessary step to ensure that operators adhere to laws governing the activities of the industry and also make it (industry) look more attractive for people to want to enter it and operate.

That has been difficult in the case of Ghana over the years, as many alleged illegal operators, popularly known as 'Banker-To-Banker,' continue to rip off the state through their unlicensed operations.

As a result, successive governments and Director-Generals of the National Lottery Authority (NLA) Ghana – formerly Department of National Lotteries – have from 1958 when lottery was introduced into the country, resorted to engaging the services of personnel from the Ghana Police Service (GPS) who go to arrest the alleged illegal lotto operators.

The approach over the years has been the application of brute force by way of using police personnel to raid the purported illegal operators.

Have the arrests paid off for the state or NLA over the years? Many believe they have certainly not as numerous lotto kiosks belonging to such illegal operators continue springing up all over the country, with the state receiving no tax revenue from their operations.

It would be recalled that such police arrests which many citizens term as harassment took place in 2010 and caused a sour relation between the late Prof. John Evans Atta Mills' government and some lotto operators represented then by the Ghana Lotto Operators Association (GLOA).

The operators, who had suffered alleged harassment by personnel of the Ghana Police Service, accused then President Mills of what they termed attempts to ground their business which they said would eventually render the lotto agents destitute in society.

GLOA held a press conference in 2010 and cautioned the then government to halt the use of police to harass its members, warning, “The peace of this country will be disturbed if the NDC government allows the NLA to continue its vendetta on lotto operators and their agents.”

Seth Amoani, secretary of the association, charged at the said press conference, “We are by this serving notice to the government that GLOA will protect its businesses if government fails to do so under Section 2(4) of the National Lotto Act (Act 722).”

From Harassment To Dialogue
The approach to dealing with the illegal lotto operations in the countr, which deprives government of substantial amount of tax revenue, however, appears to be going a more 'civilized' and 'responsible' direction, thanks to the appointment of Kofi Osei Ameyaw in March, 2017 as the new Director-General of the NLA.

Mr. Osei Ameyaw has taken the approach to dealing with the issue from police harassment of illegal operators to rather holding dialogue with them and doing everything possible to regularize them.

He says arresting the illegal operators has not paid off over the years and that it is time that a more practical and rationale approach is used to deal with the situation.

“Well, when the police have been arresting them it has not resolved the issue. And if you arrest all of them where are you going to keep them? he quizzes.

“You will keep them in jail and then what, you will feed them? There are a number of them so the best way is to regularize their current plight; bring them in and then regulate them and slowly give them equipment or the machine so they become part of the Lotto Marketing Company (LMC) system,” Mr. Osei Ameyaw suggests.

“And then also areas where there are no connectivity we should be able to work so that where we are present and working and they are staking lotto, there is a shortfall so they are filling the market. So we have to be practical about these issues and deal with them in a rationale way,” he says.

Mr. Osei Ameyaw, unlike his predecessors, is a believer in the assertion that “it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war,” and he is demonstrating this through his constant stakeholders' engagement series with the operators, agents, writers and the LMCs in the industry.

The results from the dialogue so far have been impressive and the NLA, under the watch of Mr. Osei Ameyaw, is set to increase government's revenue by bringing on board most of the illegal operators.

He tells this paper that so far, over 700 of the illegal operators in the Greater Accra Region alone have opted to register with the NLA to be licensed as legal operators.

“So far, we have gone 700 plus in Greater Accra alone and by the time we get to the regions, we are looking at thousands. We're hoping that we get over 5,000 across board,” he indicates.

At each session of such dialogues, the Director-General usually encourages the stakeholders to openly voice out their concerns so as to enable the Authority better serve them.

The message Mr. Osei Ameyaw has always strived to drum home is the need for legal operations and strong collaboration between the NLA and all its key stakeholders, through open and frank dialogue, and not undue brutality or harassment.

This is proving to be a major game changer for the industry and NLA in particular, as numerous alleged illegal operators are now seeing the need to get regularized by the Authority and in turn pay tax as a way of contributing their quota to national development.

All has not been easy but the Director-General seems to remain committed to ensuring that lotto operations in Ghana are done legally and under an atmosphere of peace.

As he hopes to have the operators nationwide registered by the end of December 2017 – which is the amnesty period for willingly registering – Mr. Osei Ameyaw is looking to expand his campaign to Ghana’s neighbouring countries namely, Togo, Burkina Faso and Cote d’ Ivoire, to ensure that people who stake Ghana lotto from there to pass through the legal route.

Revolutionizing The Sector
Under Mr. Osei Ameyaw, the Authority is in the process of introducing new value-added services to make its operations more attractive and also rewarding for its stakeholders.

NLA, the Director-General earlier indicated, was in the process of introducing about 30,000 new innovative kiosks nationwide for its agents which can be used for mobile money transfers, utility payments, among others.

He said the new kiosks were expected to be rolled out by November or December this year and that when that happens, it will help the Authority to increase the commission it pays to lotto operators or agents from the current 20 percent to about 25 percent or more.

About NLA
NLA is a  statutory agency of  Ghana  and it is under the Ministry of Finance.

As a governmental organization, the NLA is responsible for organizing raffles for the nation, for a chance for individuals to win prices thereby making lives more appreciating and better for each and everyone, including the rich and the poor.

The board of the NLA oversees the activities of the organization, headed by a chairperson, one representative of the Ministry of Interior, one representative of the Ministry of Finance, another representative of the Attorney-General’s Department, two government appointees and the Director-General.

Kofi Osei Ameyaw addressing the media on the sidelines of one of the engagement series with the stakeholders

A cross-section of regional executives of Lotto Marketing Companies during one of the engagement series

BY Melvin Tarlue

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