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POV Philippines by Jon Joaquin

Gambling and corruption

by Jon Joaquin

One of the biggest rallies ever held in Davao City was in late 1994 (or maybe early 1995) when Davaoeños came together to oppose the launch of Lotto by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). I was a new reporter then and I remember standing in a sea of people all pushing government not to go through with the idea. It was naturally led by the Catholic Church and civil society, but they had an ally in then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who had expressed opposition to the new game.

I can’t remember his exact reasons, but I recall that some of it had to do with his distaste for enticing Filipinos to use their hard-earned money to bet on a game in which one’s chances of winning are truly astronomical. At the time it was introduced, there was only the Lotto 6/42, in which a better picks a six-number combination from 1 to 42. According to the website Filipiknow.net, the odds of getting all six numbers are 1 in 5,245,786. Later on the PCSO added four more Lotto versions, with the odds getting more and more difficult: Mega Lotto 6/45 (with 45 numbers instead of 42), where the odds of winning are 1 in 8,145,060; Super Lotto 6/49 (1 in 13,983,816); Grand Lotto 6/55 (1 in 28,989,675); and Ultra Lotto 6/58 (1 in 40,475,358).

Personally I’ve never put any money into PCSO’s games (Lotto, Sweepstakes, Small Town Lottery, etc.). I know that the intent is noble: the PCSO is one of the biggest money earners for the government and millions of poor Filipinos depend on it for assistance, especially for their medical needs. But I agree with critics that in doing so, the PCSO is also encouraging a culture of gambling among Filipinos. To me, the end (helping the poor with their medical needs) does not justify the means (enticing people to part with their hard-earned money with the promise of instant wealth).

This is not to mention the corruption that must surely have festered in the PCSO over the decades, which President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed when he ordered the closure of all PCSO gaming activities on July 26. In his own words, the ground for the closure order was “massive corruption” involving “all” – that is, the corruption in the PCSO’s gaming activities was being perpetrated at all levels. This includes, he said, the courts that issued injunctions like restraining orders that allowed the corruption to thrive even when government wanted to stop it.

I’ve always been suspicious of Lotto since the time it started. It appeared that there was a winner of the jackpot every week (or close to every week). If the odds of winning were so astronomical, how could there be a lucky winner every single week? It didn’t make sense. Add to that the fact that the winners were never identified, allegedly to protect them from the evil that men do on those who get rich instantly. We were never really sure if anyone was actually winning or, as many suspected, some people were lining their pockets with the jackpot money.

In fact, it was only under the Duterte administration that the Lotto prize grew to record highs precisely because fewer and fewer people were guessing the right combination of numbers correctly. The biggest prize ever won in PCSO Lotto history was P1.8 billion in October last year, which grew to that size because no one had won the Ultra Lotto 6/58 jackpot since the previous February when two bettors shared a jackpot of P331.9 million. You can’t look at those numbers and not ask why it never happened before in the Lotto’s 24-year history.

But more than just the prize, it’s the huge amount of money lost to corruption that angers many Filipinos right now. Two weeks before Duterte ordered the closure of Lotto and other PCSO games, the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed that the PCSO had not remitted to government a whopping P8.426 billion in profits – half of its P16.852 billion net earnings from 1994 to 2016. Imagine how many lives could have been saved with that amount.

In his televised speech, Duterte hinted that he did not actually want government to operate Lotto and other such games but conceded that allowing gambling “may help in the economic activity because money goes around.”

“But if you f*** government, that’s something else. Talagang kayo ang naghingi. Ibibigay ko sa inyo.” [You asked for it, now you’re going to get it], he said.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.

Jon Joaquin is the Editor-In- Chief of the Davao City-based Mindanao Daily Mirror. E-mail Jon at jonjoaquin@gmail.com.

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