There has been a lot of reporting about the Online Lottery project, but much of it, including the reference article, is written without much understanding of what the current system and situation is all about. Some points for consideration in response to the article.
1. "The lottery will hurt the Thai economy because gamblers are Thais" - The Online Lottery is simply a legal version of the underground 3-2 digit system that Thai people have been playing for years. The damage to the economy is already occurring and the money goes into the pockets of the illegal operators.
2. "gambling via machines is the most addictive form because people tend to lose touch with reality much more quickly" - The Online Lottery machine is not accessable by the gamblers. It is operated by a store clerk, such as the clerk in a 7-11. This is not video poker or some other direct access system. It is not even the dispensing system for instant scratch tickets common in other countries.
3. "Those who become compulsive gamblers will steal, miss work, borrow money and not return it, and engage in other social maladies" - Gambling and lottery are already here and have been so for years. Saw Saw Saw uses money from cigarrette and liquor taxes to fund campaigns against smoking, drug addiction and alcohol abuse. Is there a similar social action program to rehabilitate compulsive gamblers? If not, then an Online Lottery system is not going to be any better or worse for this problem.
4. "The poor will be proportionally more affected by the lottery because they have less money to spend for discretionary purposes" - As they are with any expenditure for goods and services they don't need. Certainly lottery and gambling offer the hope of improving their lives through "luck". Education is the answer here, gambling and lottery and the abuse of both is already here.
5. “revenues lost from taxes and fees when people use their money to play the lottery instead of purchasing goods and services” – The money is already going into gambling. 28% of the revenue from the Online Lottery goes into govermnet directly as if it were taxes, where does that money go today?
6. Comparing lottery management to setting up methamphetamine labs because drugs are popular – Inflammatory statements do get remembered and carried forth because they get people’s attention, but this can hardly be considered responsible journalism. The lottery is here and has been for many years. The Online Lottery is simply a legalized version of what is already rampant in the underground.
7. Replacing the underground lottery? Probably not, legal and illegal gambling exist in all countries. Add some focussed enforcement of the laws against the underground lottery and the combination of reduced supply, education and rehabilitation programs and a legal alternative will definitely impact what has existed for many years.
Professor Thompson referred to in Kh. Sawai’s article is indeed an expert on gambling. He also is a member of the board of directors of at least one company that manages casino operations for Indian reservations, a very popular alternative to Las Vegas in the US and Canada where local laws do not allow gambling. While he is knowledgeable on the negative effects of gambling, clearly the management companies would not be hiring him if we was opposed to gambling as we are led to believe by the inferences to his work in the reference article.
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Sawai Boonma served for more than two decades as an economist with the World Bank in Washington DC. He can be reached at email@example.com
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