A pedestrian walks past a closed lotto booth on the Eastern Main Road, Curepe, yesterday.

The National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) will lose approximately $48 million per week following the closure of all gaming machines under the Emergency Powers Regulations which went into effect on Sunday.

The regulations are the latest measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Chairman of the Agents Committee Dean Persad said while not all his members are happy with the decision, they understand the health crisis T&T is current battling and they will comply fully.

NLCB’s chairman Eustace Nancis indicated a similar stance as he said they are bound to follow the law.

The latest regulation prohibits “a common gaming house or betting office licensed under the Gaming and Betting Act” from operating during this current state of emergency (SoE).

Anyone found violating the gaming regulations will face a $250,000 fine and up to six months imprisonment.

It is believed there are between 1,200 and 1,500 gaming machines across T&T.

Apart from placing bets, members of the public can also purchase phone cards and conduct bill payments via the gaming terminals.

Under the Public Health Ordinance, Persad said agents were able to operate. Despite the choice by a few to close their doors, he said all agents had complied with directives to install hand-washing and or sanitiser stations, as well as floor markers to ensure the social distance requirement was met by customers.

But under the SoE regulations, he said no agent would be allowed to continue operating as it is not an essential service.

Responding yesterday, Nancis appealed, “Let us follow the rules and regulations to curb this pandemic. Let us follow the guidelines by the science and people in charge. We are on that listing. We have no other choice.”

He said based on guidelines from the Finance Ministry, “We are not there on the list of essential services. We may plead with the Government at some point in time to look into it, and if they want to make any adjustments it would be appreciated.”

This is the second time NLCB’s gaming machines have been shut down following announcements that only essential services would be allowed to operate.

The first time was in March 2020 which led to the NLCB losing $400 million in the two months operators closed their doors.

Nancis said, “I know this will definitely hit the NLCB hard.”

He added, “We are hoping that the regulation would not remain in effect for long because we cannot continue to lose that kind of revenue. Our losses will be tremendous.”

Persad said agents had been begging customers to adhere to public health regulations daily, to ensure the virus was not spread as a result of them coming to place bets.

Both Nancis and Persad confirmed an increase in sales within recent months as they said more and more people had turned to gambling for various reasons.

Chief among them is the fact that unemployed people were taking greater chances to increase dwindling funds by gambling to make ends meet; followed by a customer increase because punters had been forced to shut down illegal operations thereby driving those customers towards NLCB agents.

Nancis revealed, “Over the last two to three months, our sales went up tremendously.”

NLCB has been surpassing budget targets as Nancis said approximately $200 million in bets are placed by punters each month.

He believes those who will really feel the pinch from the closure of the gaming machines are, “The small man who plays his Play Whe with the hopes that he wins a little something to buy food to put on his table.”

This was corroborated by a Curepe garage owner who bets daily as one way to supplement his earnings which have now been reduced.

Thousands of people place bets on Play Whe, Lotto Plus, Pick 2, Cash Pot and Donsai among other games that attract fast cash.

Play Whe is the game of choice for NLCB’s customers.

Urging customers to exercise patience during this pandemic, both Nancis and Persad said they must do what is right.

Nancis said the NLCB ought to be classified as an essential service because, “We collect payments from other Government bodies which we were authorised to do in 2018, by an Act of Parliament.”

Declaring the NLCB had been handling it tremendously, Nancis questioned, “Has anyone complained about lines in front of the NLCB’s booth? No! But we have no other choice based on what is taking place in society at this point in time…to follow the law, obey what Government’s mandate is and try and see if we could get this COVID-19 under control.”