Lotteries move lacks understanding
Decision to revive 2- and 3-digit schemes may flop, as punters will have to buy numbered tickets not pick numbers that they favour
The Cabinet's decision to revive the two- and three-digit lotteries - in a new form - raises doubts about whether the government has the slightest idea what it is dealing with.
The resolution to issue tickets with prescribed numbers, rather than having buyers specify their favourite numbers, as in the Thaksin Shinawatra era, does not answer many questions. Indeed, there is doubt if the government really analysed the problems before it came up with its decision.
The Thaksin administration should at least be commended for its success in curbing underground betting. Research showed that its lottery scheme encouraged punters to buy official tickets, rather than illegal ones, in the belief that the government would never cheat on their prize money.
Research showed that underground betting declined significantly from its high point of about Bt500 billion for each draw. From a situation where the government reaped few benefits because of so much underground betting, the scheme began to raise a huge amount of money and the proceeds were effectively distributed as scholarships for poor students.
Importantly, the Thaksin administration's scheme answered two questions: how to control underground betting and how to ensure better education for the underprivileged without having to touch the already-tight central budget.
The scheme collapsed, though, under the Surayud Chulanont government, which does not favour of "the end justifies the means" concept. It decided to scrap the lotteries on grounds that the previous government mischievously spent the proceeds in any way it saw fit. And as the Assets Examination Committee is investigating alleged wrongdoers, the original scheme could not be revived, as that would mean an amnesty for them.
As seen through its decision, the Surayud government opted to introduce some amendments to the original scheme so that it could be revived without hurting the feelings of others. But the revised scheme does not answer any questions.
When announcing the Cabinet's decision on Tuesday, Finance Minister Chalongphob Sussangkarn did not specify why the ministry decided to go along with the Government Lottery Office's proposal to continue with the two- and three-digit scheme.
Hopefully, before approving the scheme, Cabinet members asked themselves these three questions: Whether the scheme would curb underground betting; whether it would solve the overpriced lotto problem, and whether the scheme should be carried out to seek more funds for the Finance Ministry.
Opponents say the scheme will not address the first question properly. Instead of allowing sellers to write down numbers as the buyers want, the new lottery tickets will look like the six-digit ones.
This change will encourage buyers to stick to underground betting.
Prescribing numbers on the tickets could also have an impact on the second question. Buyers have complained that tickets with numbers that indicate luck and fortune like "99" could be withheld by buyers and sold at a higher price. This is what buyers have experienced with the conventional six-digit lottery.
Chalongphob said ticket numbers would be restricted to 30 million per round so that the ministry would not be blamed for encouraging the public to bet. How could he say that when the value of underground betting is well beyond that?
Given that tickets are priced at Bt50 each, the ministry will raise Bt1.5 billion a round. And with 28 per cent of the proceeds going to the ministry, it will receive Bt420 million for each round.
Importantly, Chalongphob did not announce how the ministry would spend the money. This virtually indicates that the government went ahead with its lotto plan just to rein in underground betting.
The absence of these details convinces the public that this government has only one agenda - killing everything linked to the Thaksin administration. However, it is ready to revive programmes it killed, with some changes.
Certainly, all can remember the day when former finance minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula blamed the previous government's excessive lending to the grassroots sector for creating off-balance sheet government debts. Later, this government realised that cutting off money to the grassroots would lead to an economic slowdown. And yesterday, the Finance Ministry instructed state agencies to lend Bt44 billion to the sector to revive the economy.
This shows, partly, why the government has failed to win public support - unlike the Anand administration, which was also formed after a coup. Even the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle is not expected to improve its rating. There has also been clumsy handling of economic and other problems, particularly the fiasco involving iTV.
As the government celebrates its six-month anniversary, it should realise that only when it has the right questions can it come up with the right answers.