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BBB calls for GOB to take over BOLEDO

EditorialBBB calls for GOB to take over BOLEDO

On the heels of the announcement by the government that the chairperson of the Lotteries Committee, Ms. Narda Garcia, had informed Brads Gaming Group Ltd., via a letter, that the company had breached a number of the terms of its contract, and that the company needed to explain why its Boledo contract shouldn’t be revoked, the pro-private business Belize Business Bureau (BBB) surprised many with the announcement, via a press release, that it supports a government takeover of the game. KREM News said the release from the BBB stated that the proceeds from the Boledo and other games of chance should go to the health sector, which is in “dire need of resources, services, infrastructure and attention”, and could help finance the rollout of the NHI. The business organization called for “a national electronic system of revenue collection for all gaming activities which would ensure the government gets its fair share of revenue and eliminates any corruption regarding the payment of GST.”

Buying lottery, the Boledo, is gambling—playing games of chance for money. The vast majority of people who play games of chance LOSE. Games of chance are big money winners for the ones who own the gaming houses. The casa always wins. In the game of Boledo, an individual invests, gambles five cents on a ticket which can win them $3.50. The gaming house sells 100 five-cent tickets, a potential earning of $5 for every $3.50 it pays out. Out of the $1.50 it wins, the gaming house pays a share for running the game, and a share goes as taxes to the government. The remainder is all PROFIT.

One of the big problems with games of chance is that some people become addicted. Mike Fillon, in a story for WebMD, at the website webmd.com, said Dr. Wendy Slutske, a professor in the psychology department at the University of Missouri, stated that most people can gamble recreationally with no adverse consequences. But for some, gambling is an addiction, a dangerous disease. In his report, Fillon said gambling can be considered pathological, and “the problem is thought to affect somewhere between 1.5% to 11% of the adult population.”

Gamblers who don’t go overboard, and addicts who are between 1.5% and 11% of our adult population, constitute a rich pool to be preyed upon. In Cuba, Fidel Castro thought his people were being preyed upon. He thought gambling, especially those games run by the Mafia, was ruinous to his people, and when he came to power in 1959 his government banned it, smashed the gaming houses in the country. But the need to gamble being so deep in the DNA of some people, it is unlikely, in fact impossible, to believe that the Cuban government was able to stop cockfighting and other small gaming carried out in back rooms and yards.

The gambling history of Cuba is fascinating. In his 2017 story, “Cuba Will Have Casinos, Again”, I. Nelson Rose said nightclubs, bordellos and casinos flourished in Cuba before the coming of Castro. But around 1950 the good times appeared to “be coming to an end,” because “Cuban casinos had become so crooked that Americans were beginning to stay away.” Nelson says the gambling business was saved when Fulgencio Batista came to power in 1952.

“In an ironic twist,” Nelson says, “Batista called upon the mob, particularly Meyer Lansky, to clean things up. And they did. It is hard to believe organized crime syndicates would run completely honest games. But Lansky realized they could make more money with magnificent hotel-casinos than if they cheated everyone.” Nelson said, “the money poured in … Batista got a cut of everything … the economy under Batista was not that bad … Cuba had a large middle class.” But “most Cubans never shared the wealth they saw all around them, and corruption was rampant … the result was revolution.”

Gambling is fun for many people, but for far too many it is a serious vice that will take them to bankruptcy and personal degradation. We must educate our people; the numbers associated with gambling must be made perfectly clear: if you gamble, you will lose. With proper education, no one in our country will be unaware of the dangers of games of chance; from early on we must teach our children the truth about this vice.

It isn’t possible to stop adults from gambling. It is extremely exciting to many, and for some it provides the ultimate titillation. For progressive governments, the best thing is to run the gaming houses, for the people, and the next best thing is to ensure that games are heavily taxed. In regard to taxation, the collection of revenues, we have failed, monumentally. The present administration (PUP) says that when the past administration (UDP) privatized the Boledo, our country lost $60 million!

When it privatized the Boledo back in 2010, the past administration (UDP) claimed that the national coffers would derive more revenues from the game because the private company would replace the antiquated system with electronic equipment. The company that got the contract, Brads, was given a ten-year contract to control an enterprise that, in effect, fleeces the people. For this prize, Brads committed to pay 2 million dollars per year, which the government said was considerably more than it was getting under the government-run system. The decision wasn’t welcomed by the masses, because privatization hurt traditional roots-Belizean sellers, and they felt the tax was too small. Time and again, the main opposition party, the PUP, lambasted the UDP government at House meetings for the Boledo contract it gave to Brads.

It is likely that the renewal of the Brads contract in 2020, for a further ten years, and the belief that a close relative of then Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, was a major shareholder in the company, factored in the massive defeat of the UDP at the polls in November 2020. The UDP said the contract had been given out by the Lotteries Tender Committee, with no interference of anyone in government, but Belizeans didn’t swallow that pill. Incredibly, Belizeans still don’t know who the main shareholders of Brads are, that information being hidden from our prying eyes because the company is registered offshore.

Interestingly, former prime minister, Dean Barrow is representing Brads. He has said the company complied with every requirement when it got the contract, and that the present government is acting unfairly, that what the government is trying to extract from the company could drive it out of business.

It is a good bet that the majority of Belizeans want the company to go out of business, want ownership of the Boledo returned to the country about as much as they wanted back BTL. Even the BBB, which is as pro-private business as it gets, wants the GOB to take back the Boledo. We should heed the call of the BBB and its president, Mr. Arturo Lizarraga. There are so many needs in our country. The healthcare system can do with the injection of more cash. Sports, social services, education, housing, indeed in every area, we need more finances. Every penny we can scrape up from this vice must find its way into programs and projects that better the lot of our people.

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