From firstname.lastname@example.org Mon Jul 31 10:35:02 2000
Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Jamaicans Eye Jackpot as Economy Crumbles
By Corinne Barnes, IPS, 27 July 2000
KINGSTON, Jul 27 (IPS) p Fitzroy Stewart is a security guard. He dreams that one of these days he will be able to trade his miserable existence for a life of luxury. So he regularly purchases a lottery ticket and watches keenly as the winning numbers are announced on television.
And each week he turns away disappointed as he has never been able to rake in the millions of dollars which are up for grabs.
"I want to achieve a house and a transport (motor vehicle). The only hope I have to get these is Uncle Sam (migrating to the United States) or lotto. Is just poverty why people have to gamble," says Stewart who is married with one child, but says he has to support the four children of his deceased sister.
Stewart is typical of thousands of Jamaicans who are hanging their hopes for a change in their financial situation on games of chance.
Reports from the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission, the body responsible for regulating horseracing and the lottery in Jamaica are that gambling is on the increase. Many attribute this to the continuing deteriorating economic conditions here.
Unemployment here now stands at 16.3 percent, fuelled by the closure of dozens of garment factories here over the last three years as these businesses fled to Mexico and the benefits of afforded them under the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the collapse of the financial sector over the same time span.
The cost of living continues to rise with the deterioration of the currency. The Jamaican currency now stands at 42.50 to one US dollar. Electricity, telephone and food prices are either way up or on the way up.
This week the Jamaica Public Service Company, the sole supplier of light and power in the country, announced it would increase electricity rates by 12 percent. And telephone rates are also set to move up in September. Domestic telephone calls will rise by between 24 and 38 percent.
"The increase in electricity rates is going to mean that everything else is going to go up," says one distraught woman who is self-employed and says she is already struggling to pay the current rates.
Unable to see a way out of the cycle of economic hardship, many like Stewart and Dennis McNeish are hoping that chance will change their fortunes.
Fifty-one year old McNeish washes cars to support his common-law wife and six children. He earns 83 US dollars (3,500 Jamaican dollars) per week and spends 24 dollars (1,000 Jamaican) on the horses and the lottery tickets. Last year he won 238 dollars (10,000 Jamaican) from horseracing. He hopes that one day the lotto will make him a millionaire.
Jamaicans spent some 142.9 million US dollars (6 billion Jamaican dollars) on horseracing and lottery tickets last year - 104.8 million dollars (4.4 billion Jamaican) on horseracing and 38.1 million dollars (1.6 billion Jamaican) on the lottery. This represents a 60 percent rise over the previous year.
This week the lotto jackpot stands at 381,000 US dollars (16 million Jamaican dollars). Thousands of people are again hoping that this will be their lucky week and that by spending 20 Jamaican dollars they will become millionaires.
One of the jingles which the Jamaica Lottery Company uses to advertise its product says "If you don't have a ticket, you don't have a chance," and it is estimated that about 63 percent of the island's adult population takes that chance every week.
"I do it because it is very helpful to me when I least expect it. I spend small amounts - 20 dollars. If you go out the street, someone is going to beg you and you give it away. So, it is no big thing to buy a lotto ticket for 20 dollars, or spend 50 dollars a week on the horses. Sometimes, I long to buy myself an ice cream, but I prefer to use the money to place a bet," says 70-year-old Belinda Green, a retired factory worker.
In addition to horseracing and the lottery, in recent times there have been a proliferation of gaming machines all over the island. The Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission estimates that there are some 7,000 of these machines in the island.
Up until recently the gambling industry had been unregulated and although millions of dollars flow through these facilities annually, very little got into the government's coffers. To cash in on this upsurge in business, the government has recently introduced legislation requiring bars, lounges and entertainment centres to be licensed to operate gaming machines.
The new law will also place these entertainment centres under the management of the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission. Each facility will be allowed to operate up to 15 machines, with each machine attracting an annual charge of 232 US dollars in licenses.
Meanwhile, other forms of gambling are also on the rise. The Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission says it received 27 applications from different groups to hold bingo parties between February and June this year, compared to 15 applications for all of 1999.
There were also 18 applications for raffles between February and June compared to 18 for all of last year.
"I feel that most people gamble because they are out of work, and many people are out of work," says 65 year-old Donald Reid, a casual worker, who says he spends between 1.40 and 2.40 US dollars on lottery tickets each week.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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