Today’s Editorial for April 1:Lottery discourse needed

At a political rally last week, Bodden Town candidate Gilbert McLean brought up the subject of instituting a national lottery. Another candidate, George Town’s Eddie Thompson, has also said he would support a national lottery.

Given the reaction of the Cayman Ministers’ Association in 2003 when then Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush announced he would press Cabinet for a national lottery, it is courageous of Mr. McLean and Mr. Thompson to make the statements they have. The CMA’s outcry over the possibility of a national lottery back then caused Mr. Bush to reverse his stance just six weeks later.

Proponents of a national lottery point to the fact that the illegal numbers game has existed for decades in the Cayman Islands. Mr. McLean said almost 10 years ago a former police commissioner estimated that Cayman residents spent $1 million a week on illegal numbers. That figure is probably much higher now.

In addition, many Cayman residents – Caymanians and expatriates alike – play the lottery when they travel overseas. They also enjoy frequenting casinos overseas.

If a national lottery were instituted in Cayman, the government and not criminals would earn the lottery profits, which are statistically about 50 per cent. In the illegal numbers game here, most of those profits are shipped off overseas to countries like Belize, Honduras and Jamaica.

If Cayman had a national lottery, those proceeds could instead go toward funding things like education, as is often the case in other places in the world. The Cayman government will likely have to seek new sources of revenue to balance the budget in the future and a national lottery might be one option.

What’s more, if a lottery were legal, people who have a gambling problem would be more likely to seek help. Right now, many people who play the numbers game are unlikely to seek help out of fear of prosecution because what they’re doing is illegal.

As is the case in other places that have legalised lottery, a certain percentage of the profits could be used to set up a counselling services for people who want help with a gambling problem.

Another benefit of a national lottery is that it would all but eliminate a major source of funding for a significant organised crime structure here. Although numbers might be seen as a non-violent type of crime, people who willingly break the law could very well have their hands in other illegal activities.

National lottery proponents also point out that raffles, some for which tickets are $25 or more, are a major way of fundraising for many non-profit organisations, including churches. Raffle prizes are often cars, boats and even large amounts of cash.

Opponents of a national lottery cite moral and ethical objections, and the fact that sanctioned lotteries elsewhere often don’t produce the expected levels of funding for government projects.

However, given the predominance of people playing numbers here and Cayman’s budgetary needs, we think there is a need to once again open discourse for having a national lottery.