SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Alarming, troubling, and disturbing. These were the words that 16 members and supporters of Party for Progress (PFP) used to describe the number of lottery booths they tallied in an informal count on a hot and sunny Saturday, November 6, 2021.
Armed with pens, paper and mobile phones, these volunteers drove through every district in the country and marked the names and/or addresses of the lottery booths they saw. They also counted supermarkets and shops that advertised lottery games. After each team’s sheets were counted and cross-referenced, the result was a jarring 130.
These results correspond to an average of a little more than eight (8) lottery booths per square mile, or roughly one (1) booth for every 480 residents, based on the Government’s population estimate of 62,323.
But more than the seemingly exorbitant number of lottery booths, the unregulated nature of the industry is what concerns PFP Members of Parliament (MPs) Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson.
“It was an eye-opening experience, but it still confirmed much of what we can see happening all around us,” said MP Gumbs after participating in the informal count. “Although the law stipulates a limit to the number of lottery licences the country can have, the holders of these licences have no restriction to the number of booths they can build, or where they can be located, or the type of construction and amenities that need to be in place.”
“Unfortunately, we have yet to see any Minister create such a policy. This has led to the situation we have today, where booths can be placed directly outside schools and playgrounds, and where the booths themselves are unsafe and unhygienic for those who work in them,” added MP Peterson.
“The lack of regulation also means that lottery companies can target our most vulnerable citizens,” explained MP Gumbs. “There are many booths in places such as Philipsburg, Arch Road and A.T. Illidge Road, but our teams did not find a single booth in Pelican, Cupecoy, Dawn Beach, and Guana Bay. With a policy, we can stop the lottery booths from preying on those with limited means and opportunity.”
To determine the existence or not of such a policy, the PFP faction plans to request a work visit to the Department of Economic Affairs, Transportation & Telecommunication and the Operating Organisation of Economic Licenses.
The PFP MPs want to ensure that, if there is a policy established or pending to be established, that it includes a maximum number of booths per lottery license and per district, as well as a minimum distance of 500 metres between a lottery booth and the nearest school. They also want the policy to set building, safety and hygiene criteria in collaboration with the Ministries of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) and Public Health, Social Development and Labor (VSA), regarding both public and private land. The November 6th informal research revealed that booths found on especially private land do not normally adhere to basic safety and hygiene needs.
Finally, PFP believes that the policy should establish an annual fee for each lottery booth in operation.
“Government currently earns no additional revenue for lottery booths. Companies pay a fee for the licence, but not for the individual branches. In times of economic hardship, we need to be creative in our efforts to raise funds. This is one way that the Government can make some additional income, and all it takes is proper regulation,” said MP Peterson. “But furthermore and most importantly, we believe the amount of booths should be limited to a much lesser amount, no more than 5 per license holder. This would include the small booths that we see within other business establishments, such as booths in supermarkets or small grocers. All of these should fall within the maximum of 5.”
“Our laws often place wide-reaching regulatory and discretionary powers in the hands of Ministers. For us, this puts too much trust in individuals to simply ‘do the right thing.’ In recent and not-so-recent times we have seen Ministers do the exact opposite, being influenced by family, funds and favors rather than the best interest of the country. Especially when it relates to social issues, the law must be there to protect our people and guarantee their rights,” said MP Gumbs.
Although the group tallied some 130 lottery booths, the party acknowledges that their count is not comprehensive. As such, PFP had requested the Social and Economic Council (SER) to conduct research into the socio-economic effects of lottery booths and the gambling industry.
“We carried out this exercise to get a rough estimate of the number of lottery booths in the country. However, we are not professional social researchers and, because we did not look at bars and restaurants that may also sell lottery, our count is likely to be a gross underestimation. We simply wanted to continue this discussion with a baseline. I look forward to reading any report issued by the SER on this topic, as reliable data is an indispensable part in making effective policy and legislation,” concluded MP Gumbs.