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A man awaits his turn to go into a Lotto both on Queen Janelle Commissiong Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

The Online Gaming Agents Association of T&T (OGAATT) is calling on the Government to open Lotto booths and instruct the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) to pay a long outstanding pandemic relief grant to Lotto Agents.

According to president of the OGAATT, Dean Persad, Lotto booths have been closed since May 17 with the implementation of the State of Emergency (SoE), “with no business and no relief grant, agents are finding it extremely difficult to stay afloat.”

“Rents, bank loans and charges, bills etc, and day to day living is becoming increasingly difficult to meet and fast becoming a matter of survival,” Persad said.

He said agents are reaching the point of giving up their rented locations because they simply cannot afford to pay rents for unused and underutilised spots as landlords are insisting on collecting their rents or vacate.

In addition, he added that since their closure for two months last year when they applied for a relief grant they did not receive any kind of financial assistance. “Instead we have the chairman of NLCB on record as saying that the request was denied but he declined to give a reason for the denial,” he said

Persad said agents are saddled with the responsibility of securing NLCBs terminals at all locations whether renting or not without any kind of assistance from NLCB and/or the Ministry of Finance which is the line Ministry, “That is unfair to agents, who have to incur costs to secure the safety of these machines,” he said.

He added, “Added to this, NLCB is calling on agents to clear “alleged” outstanding debts before resumption of operations or face “interruption of service” on resumption. This is compounding agents stress as in many cases agents are not owning these monies as claimed by NLCB.

We have instances of agents making payments as way back as 2019 but not showing up as a payment as recent as June 2021! Agents have to go through the ordeal of being threatened (legal actions or suppression of machines) by NLCB, and prove to them that payments were made, when these payment entries should have already been made by NLCB,” Persad said.

“We have also brought this incompetence and inefficiency of NLCBs accounts department to the attention of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance through a thread of emails over the past weeks,” he said.

Another concern for agents, Persad said is that they are faced with “the harsh and unjust $100 weekly fee, which was previously $15 weekly.

“Agents are against this fee and we are asking the Minister of Finance to intervene to remove this fee. Agents feel totally abandoned, frustrated and hopeless with the treatment meted out to us. No amount of reasoning or pleading with NLCB is helping,” he said.

“To this end, we are calling on the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to intervene to bring relief to agents. Your intervention would be highly appreciated Gentlemen,” Persad said.

Speaking with the Guardian Media on strict anonymity, an official at the NLCB said the last Public Accounts Committee hearing of the NLCB in early 2021, revealed a move to eventual mobile unit for the lottery, “this was stated by the present chairman with the NLCB. No details are out yet but it seems as though there is a restructuring or a buy-over soon in the near future. But as to the agents with respect to requests of relief grants that will solely be up to the Minister of Finance and nothing forthcoming from the ministry yet.

Efforts to reach the present NLCB’s Director Camille Forde and the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert for comment proved futile.