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

sharlene.rampersad

@guardian.co.tt

Lotto booth operators are threatening to shutdown their machines on Monday and Tuesday if the National Lotteries Control Board does not rescind a decision to increase their weekly fee from $15 to $100.

Head of a committee advocating for the operators, Dean Persad told Guardian Media yesterday the board has no justification for the increase.

Persad said operators were alerted of the NLCB’s intend to raise the fee by messages that showed up on their machines on Wednesday.

He said operators have suffered massive losses since the start of the pandemic.

“A fee for us for any amount, whether its $15 or $100, is unfair to us, unjust and unreasonable and more so in times when sales have dropped, and NLCB know this, by over 60 per cent in most cases. We have competition with the illegal Play Whe, we have rent to pay, we have a lot of agents who are renting in malls, under people’s houses, and under steps in Chaguanas,” Persad said.

He said many operators have also had to let go staff as they struggle to survive. Persad said during a meeting in November 2019, the increase was brought up.

“When the then online manager was asked by the chairman, Mr (Eustace) Nancis, was asked what are the agents are paying this fee for, he couldn’t answer and the answer he gave was unacceptable by the chairman.”

He said the increase was bordering on illegal and the operators are prepared to take legal action to stop it.

He sent out a call to agents, saying, “Do not pay this $100 fee when you go to deposit next week, do not pay it and let NLCB suppress all the machines in the country.”

The NLCB can shut off machines remotely when its weekly deposits are not made.

Persad wants the attention of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

“We are doing this to get the ears and eyes of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance because this is a billion dollar industry and this is a runaway horse, they are doing what they want. I have information to show the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister that their accounts department is a mess.”

He said instead of increasing the fee, the NLCB should increase the commission paid to agents.

But in an interview, NLCB chairman Eustace Nancis said the increase is necessary.

He said it was supposed to be implemented in 2020 but at the height of the pandemic, the board decided against it.

According to Nancis, there are currently about 1,200 agents across the country.

At the current rate, the NLCB collect about $18,000 a week or $72,000 a month from those agents. When the increase goes into effect, the board will collect $120,000 a week or $480,000 a month from the agents.

“This will help us in maintenance and repairs of the equipment, the consumables including play slips, pencils, brochures and rolls that we give to the agents, it also helps us for market support and promotions, it help us with signage, it also gives a help with bank charges. We operate toll-free hotlines on behalf of the agents and agents operating training, that simple $100 will help us with some of those charges,” Nancis said.

He said despite this, he was willing to meet with the operators to avoid a shut down.

He said he had seen messages from the committee via WhatsApp and email but Persad had not reached out to him directly via phone.