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Gogoi govt lines up e-lottery gamble

Guwahati, Sept. 3: Undeterred by a storm raging in neighbouring Meghalaya over the controversial online lottery deal with a private company, the cash-strapped Tarun Gogoi government is planning to introduce a similar “e-game” to mop up additional revenue to the tune of Rs 100 crore annually.

All forms of conventional lottery had been banned by the erstwhile AGP-led government in 1998 following an outcry over the adverse effects of the single-digit system.

Minister of state for finance Nilamoni Sen Deka told The Telegraph the “final decision would be taken within a month or two after weighing the pros and cons, including the possible impact on youths”.

Disclosing that talks were on with “several firms”, Deka said the government was aware of the controversy in Meghalaya and was keen to strike the “best possible” deal. “It would be improper on my part to comment on the deal between the Meghalaya government and a lottery company. But we will ensure that whatever agreement our government signs will be a transparent one and beneficial to the state,” he added.

The minister, however, said the state government was not keen to revive conventional lotteries. “They are no longer popular and, hence, not profitable.”

He pointed out that several states — Sikkim, Maharashtra, Punjab, Goa and Karnataka — had started online lotteries to augment their resources. Maharashtra was the first state to start an online lottery in March. It is expected to generate at least Rs 100 crore in the first year.

Nearly 20 million people buy lottery tickets everyday. Over the past four years, the Centre has made several attempts to ban lotteries, but without success. It had promulgated the Lotteries Regulation Ordinance in 1997, banning all single-digit lotteries. The ordinance was, however, replaced by the Lotteries Regulation Act a year later.

In spite of the ban on lotteries in Assam, dealers continue to find new ways to keep the money flowing. In several Upper Assam districts, tickets of lotto games under the banner of Nagaland State Lotteries continue to be played. To beat the law, the second-last digit of a ticket number is considered the “last digit”.

Police officials say they can do very little to stop the illegal lottery as “gamblers will not lodge complaints even if they lose thousands of rupees”.

Deka said a private company had sought compensation to the tune of nearly Rs 700 crore from the state government for losses incurred because of the ban on lotteries by the previous ministry. The company had been invited to start a lottery in Assam by the erstwhile Hiteswar Saikia-led Congress government.

In the event of Assam losing the case, it will be saddled with an additional burden of Rs 700 crore, Deka said. He blamed the previous government for the loopholes in the agreement with the company.

Pressure is mounting on the F.A. Khonglam government in Meghalaya to scrap its online-lottery agreement with M.S. Associates, a company owned by Congress MP Mani Kumar Subba. With Assembly elections drawing near, most of the coalition partners are toying with the idea of pulling out from the government.

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