Lottery conflict


Lottery conflict

Gaming sources worried that BGLC boss will feel obliged to issue licence to new company because of past relationship


Sunday, February 16, 2020

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There are increasingly louder whispers in local gaming circles about a possible conflict of interest surrounding an application for a new player to enter the multi-billion dollar lottery industry.

But the man at whom fingers are being pointed Vitus Evans, executive director of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) has scoffed at the claims and charged that any such allegation would be unfounded.

Last October, the BGLC confirmed reports reaching the Jamaica Observer that an application had been made by an entity which wants to enter the local lottery market.

“The BGLC has received indication of interest to offer a new lottery product in Jamaica. However, the process required to obtain a lottery licence is not at the point at which the BGLC is able to reveal any information in this regard,” said the commission in response to questions from the Sunday Observer.

“The BGLC does not publicise information on prospective applicants for any licence within its purview. As is customary, once a licence is approved the relevant details are published,” added the commission in response to questions about the principals behind the request.

In a probe over the past four months, the Sunday Observer has confirmed that some major players in the local private sector, including the operators of one of the major fast-food chains, and a relative of a former director of Supreme Ventures Limited (SVL), are among the listed directors of the company seeking the lottery licence.

News that the relative of the former SVL director is a partner in the new company is what has sparked the concerns in the gaming sector that Evans, who runs the day-to-day operations of BGLC, could be conflicted.

Before taking on the role as head of the BGLC, Evans on May 1, 2017, through his law firm Vitus Evans and Associates, was retained by Paul Hoo, the then chairman, as a consultant to SVL, and received his last cheque from the lottery giant on May 31, 2017, days after he assumed the role of the regulator of the industry.

Speaking with the Sunday Observer yesterday, Evans confirmed that he worked for SVL but argued that the relationship was terminated once he was given the job at the BGLC.

“When I did my interview with the commission I advised them that I actually had done some work for Supreme Ventures in the past. When I was joining the commission, after being given the job, I wrote to Supreme Ventures telling them that they had to settle my outstanding invoice for fear of any conflict of interest, because I was going to take up the job at the BGLC,” said Evans.

“The cheque came a few days after I joined the commission. I have not done any more work for Supreme Ventures since,” added Evans.

He said three years later he would have no obligations to any former member of the SVL board as he was contracted by the company and not an individual.

“I don't have any particular interest with anyone. I worked for Supreme Ventures and if the person is among those who actually applied for a licence, there is no director of Supreme Ventures that I know who has applied for a licence. So I don't know any conflict that I could possibly have,” declared Evans.

He underscored that any new lottery licence would be issued by the board of commissioners of the BGLC and not by him.

“The due diligence would be done by independent agencies to find if the principals are fit and proper and the board would issue the licence. I certainly do not have the power. I have a board of commissioners who would make that decision,” said Evans.

“I worked with Supreme Ventures three years ago, and I don't know who would have applied for licences when I was working for Supreme Ventures; I don't know what changes would have been made at Supreme Ventures, and I am at a loss to see what conflict there would be at this time,” added Evans.

In the meantime, a highly placed Government source yesterday told the Sunday Observer that the Cabinet has decided that it will have the final say in any decision to grant a third lottery licence.

In its response to the Sunday Observer last October, the BGLC had pointed to Section 49 (1) of the Betting, Gaming, and Lotteries Act which gives it the sole authority to grant a licence “to any person to promote a lottery”.

“No recommendation to, or approval by, the minister responsible for finance is required. Also, the law does not require any public consultation on the issue of any gaming licence,” said the BGLC.

But the Government source said after the approval was given to Goodwill Gaming Enterprise Limited to operate a lottery game in 2011 without the knowledge of any member of the Cabinet, a decision was issued to the BGLC that this should not be repeated.

“The Cabinet will decide if a new lottery licence is to be issued and the members will consider several factors, including the national interest and the possible impact on the revenue which is substantial now,” said the source.

In 2018, SVL raked in almost $63 billion in ticket sales, a 12.3 per cent increase over 2017. The company also paid out a record $6.9 billion in total fees and taxes to the Government in 2018, representing an increase of approximately $800 million over 2017. The 2019 figures have not yet been released by SVL.

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