By ALISON ANIS
THE national government has come under pressure to stop the recently launched mobile phone lottery, and to audit the books of regulator National Gaming Control Board.
Since the newest way of gambling, using the mobile phone, was launched two weeks ago, there had been widespread debate about how this would be regulated, and whether minors were being exposed in the same way as they were to the illegal horserace machines.
Women and church groups were adding to the growing voice to stop this gambling and its threat to children.
President of the National Council of Women (NCW) Scholar Kakas and the president of the Catholic Bishop Conference (CBC) in PNG and the Solomon Islands, Archbishop Francesco Panfilo, yesterday spoke out against mobile phone lottery.
They said the claim that this form of gambling would “make millionaires out of everyone in a transparent and accountable way” was nonsense.
They said the lottery concept, supervised by the National Gaming Control Board (NGCB) and played using Digicel PNG network, would bring more poverty in families and communities. PNG is the first country in the South Pacific to launch mobile lottery even ahead of its developed neighbours, Australia and New Zealand.
“This is dangerous nonsense.
“Even our developed neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, do not permit mobile phone lotteries because they are so hard to regulate,” Panfilo said in statement.
He said gambling, through mobile phone networks, had opened up gates for simple and poor people in the villages to spend their money on gambling.
“There will be less money for food and other necessities and more family problems as the punters would be tempted to spend their earnings in pursuit of a hopeless dream,” he added.
Kakas, in support, said: “There is definitely no way that the lottery would make millionaires out of everybody in a transparent and accountable way.
“This is all a big lie because there will be no control or proper monitoring in place of people gambling on phone.
“We have enough problems with pokies and horse-racing and are sure to experience more problems with the introduction of mobile lottery.
“How will we know if our children below the age of 18 are not involved?” Kakas asked.
She said the voice prompt on customer service number (150), which says: “Elders will have to control this” was not an effective regulatory method.
Panfilo argued there was no way to keep track of the age of those playing.
“This means that a child who wins will not get his prize unless they lie and give their phone to an older person.
“From what we know of the youth of PNG, students and children will spend their own and their parents’ money on gambling.
“Employers who provide mobile phone credits to their employees will face the same problems,” Panfilo said.
According to media reports, 10% of the profits raised through mobile phone gambling would go towards developing youth and sports programmes in the communities.
“Similar promises in the past were not fulfilled.
“As far as we know, NGCB has never presented a financial report to parliament as required under its relevant act. We simply do not know where the money goes to,” a Catholic Bishop’s Conference media statement said yesterday.
“On Saturday, we might see a few poor people win a lot of money and rise out of poverty, at least, temporarily.
“Everyone else who participates will be worse off and there will be an increase in the number of people addicted to gambling.”
The Catholic bishops also called on the public to send the mobile phone company a message: “To leave their phones at home for a day.”
They warned that if the scheme continues, the churches of PNG may organise something more drastic.
About a fortnight ago, Anglimp-South Waghi MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham called on Digicel PNG to abandon its
plan to introduce lotto on its network.
He said the last thing this country needed was easy access to affordable gambling avenue.