It’s almost a part of Kerala’s landscape: the sight (and sounds) of people peddling lottery tickets from roadside kiosks, cycles or autorickshaws fitted with mikes. But the ruling Left coalition has ended with egg on its face after the Kerala High Court stepped in with an order to restrict the number of draws to once a week—so as to stem the outflow of Rs 15,000 crore from the state every year. The debate on whether lotteries from outside (Sikkim and Bhutan) should be sold in Kerala has been raging for long now. But little action was initiated by the government—till a litigant secured this court order.
This at least dilutes the extent of money going out because the Sikkim and Bhutan lotteries together were draining over Rs 40 crore from Kerala through four daily draws—28 a week. The average Malayali ticket buyer, once addicted to online lotteries, was buying tickets regularly because the number of draws were more than Kerala state lotteries, which have just one draw a day.
According to official figures, Kerala accounts for just four per cent of the ticket sales while Sikkim and Bhutan keep the remaining 96 per cent of the business, operated by promoters like Coimbatore-based Santiago Martin. Incidentally, the man has friends in all political parties, including the CPI(M). Though the other day he did tangle with them, declaring in public that he was fortunate to get back the Rs 2 crore he had given to them on the pretext of placing an ad in the party daily. He said they returned the money only after the matter became public through inner party feuds. He is still the key player, though, and is sure to file an appeal against the HC order on behalf of Sikkim and Bhutan lotteries.
As for the law, Section 4 of the Lotteries (Regulation) Act, 1998, does spell out a few precautionary conditions. Some of these are: the state government must print the tickets; the proceeds of the tickets sale must be credited into the public account of the state; the state government shall conduct the draws of all lotteries and no lottery shall have more than one draw a week.
Obviously, none of these precautionary conditions were complied with by the private promoter. Strangely, finance minister Thomas Isaac has shied away from exercising the powers vested in the state under the Central Lotteries Act, saying states do not have the powers to ban lotteries; it’s the prerogative of the Centre. In fact, the finance minister had till now been content shooting off missives to the Centre, complaining that the “other-state” lotteries were being run illegally. His government even failed to file firs against offending promoters, agents and sellers.
That aside, the problem of reining in or stopping the lottery business has a social dimension. For even as the average Keralite is induced into an addiction that borders on gambling, 4,00,000-odd people depend on lottery ticket-selling for their livelihood. Their leader is M.V. Jayarajan, a CPI(M) state committee member, who has warned any move by Dr Isaac to go in for a face-saving ban on both Kerala and outside lotteries would mean depriving the poor of their livelihoods. He has warned of a massive agitation against those “out to wreck the lives of the poor who eke out a living on the streets by selling lottery tickets”.