Online lottery switch worth a bet

Economy March 02, 2018 01:00


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THE twists and turns in the headline-grabbing dispute over a Bt30 million lottery prize demonstrate need for the competition to go online, proponents of a switch say.

Doing away with paper tickets would help to prevent a repeat of the conflicting ticket claims that have now become a police issue as well as stop vendors from overcharging and boost efficiency at the Government Lottery Office (GLO). 

The lottery dispute, which has unfolded under the media glare in Kanchanaburi province over recent months, reflects the many problems surrounding the GLO as well as the way police investigate a criminal case. 

Ordinary Thais have lapped up the developments in the case, drawn to the claims and counter-claims of the key parties, and the fact that the issue touches close to home – an estimated 32 million people regularly try their luck in each draw. 

The saga started when Charoon Wimul, a retired policeman in Kanchanaburi, claimed the first prize of Bt30 million late last year.

Teacher Preecha Kraikruan disputed Charoon’s claim, claiming that the five winning tickets belonged to him, as he had lost them.

He filed a complaint to the local police. Charoon insisted that he bought the tickets from a vendor for Bt700.

 The dispute over the rightful ownership of the winning tickets led to the transfer of two senior police officers in Kanchanaburi on suspicion of not conducting a proper investigation into the case.

The Crime Suppression Division renews an investigation that led to warrants being issued against Preecha and the lottery vendor on accusations of filing a false complaint with police, giving false information to officials and framing another person in a criminal case.

Had the GLO been using an online system, the dispute would have been unlikely to happen, say those pushing for reform.

Vested interests 

The idea of introducing online system to replace the paper tickets was first floated many years ago. But it failed to get off the ground due to strong opposition from both vested interests – the vendors and a numbers of non-profit foundations that care for disabled people.

“The Bt30 million lottery saga would make more and more people accept an online lottery system,” said Sangsit Piriyarangsan, dean of the Social Innovation College of Rangsit University. He claims that, according to his latest survey on the subject, most Thais support the introduction of online lottery. As more and more people use smartphones and mobile banking services, they see a switch to an online lottery as practical, said Sangsit. 

Under an online system, ticket buyers would have to register their ID card numbers, clearly identifying the owner of the electronic tickets. By law, only those age 20 and over can buy into the lottery, so the ID card number is required for ticket purchases.

An online system would also resolve the issue of ticket overpricing by vendors. So far, the GLO has failed to maintain the price of a ticket at Bt80, as it has promised. Vendors nationwide charge buyers often charge players at least Bt90 and sometimes more than Bt100 for a ticket with a Bt80 face value. 

“Machines would not overcharge,” said Sangsit. He also suggested that the GLO or the government could directly give financial support to disabled people or others in disadvantage groups instead of allocating them a quota of lottery tickets from which they can earn a living. 

 The GLO, however, remains cautious about upgrading to an online system. GLO spokesman Thanawat Polvichai said that the GLO carried out a feasibility study in an online lottery but implementation would come only when society arrived at a consensus on the issue.

 For the time being, consumers have to be keep their lottery tickets in a safe place, as it is difficult for police to verify the ownership when a dispute arises, he said.

 He admits that the GLO cannot prevent vendors from overcharging as the ticket sales take place outside the scope of the GLO’s management.

Traders often collect tickets with the same lottery number and package them for sale at a higher price.

Some observers suggest that the GLO should print more tickets, but the government says it is concerned about such a move encouraging more people to gamble.

 Meanwhile, some economists say the lottery is a tax in disguise. When a vendor sell a buyer Bt 100 per ticket, the chance of winning the first prize of Bt6 million is one in a million. 

But when the probability of a win is multiplied by the prize of Bt6 million, the expected value of that bet is just Bt6.

 The probability of a player losing their Bt100 on their ticket price is 999,999 in a million. But when the probability of the loss of Bt100 multiplied by 999,999 in one million, the expected outcome is minus Bt99.9. When the Bt6 is added to minus Bt99.9, that comes to minus Bt94.  It means that buyer is subject to a loss of Bt94, so from an investment perspective it is not worth it. Put another way, it is a tax that the government collects from lottery consumers. 

 According to the GLO website, it is obliged to transfer no less than 20 per cent of the revenue generated from ticket sales to government coffers. Recently, the office transferred 22 per cent of the revenue, Thanawat said.

 In the 2016 fiscal year, the GLO transferred Bt25.9 billion to the government, jumping from the Bt15.4 billion in the previous fiscal year.