Small Town Lottery divides House
If there’s an issue that can divide the House of Representatives’ solid supermajority, it is Small Town Lottery (STL), the state-sanctioned game aimed at eradicating “jueteng,” an illegal numbers racket.
At the House games and amusements committee hearing on Tuesday, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. took exception to the claims that STL operators authorized by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) were cheating the government of P4.3 billion in monthly revenue.
Citing intelligence information, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Jan. 24 at a hearing called by the Senate Committee on Games and Amusement that monthly gross collections from STL operations in at least eight Luzon regions averaged P6.05 billion.
Lacson said the amount was bigger than the PCSO’s current monthly collection of P1.7 billion from authorized agent corporations (AACs).
Shortfall, monthly receipts
The shortfall is believed to be due to the fact that gambling lords are using STL as a front for jueteng as the two games have similar mechanics.
Teves, who openly admitted at the hearing that he was a former drug addict and “an illegal gambler for a very long time,” said AACs should not be expected to hand over the full presumptive monthly retail receipts (PMRR).
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte had interpreted the PMRR as the amount AACs were required to remit to the government. This was similar to Lacson’s pronouncements last week.
The threshold was computed as 30 percent of the voting population multiplied by P2.50 average bet, by three draws a day and by 30 days.
The PMRR, Villafuerte said, should lead to an annual revenue of P72 billion, but the
PCSO reported an income of only P15.747 billion.
Teves, however, said it was unreasonable to expect STL operators to hand over all the revenue to the government.
“The truth is, the whole PMRR is not the one being paid. How can you give all sales to the government? PMRR is your sales and you only pay the percentage,” he said.
Remeliza Gabuyo, chair of STL Management Group (SMG), confirmed this, saying AACs were remitting 39 percent of the PMRR threshold.
This led Teves to say “it is a false claim that STL is being used as fronts by illegal gamblers.”
He said the introduction of STL in 2006 meant that at least the government was taking some of the profit, unlike in jueteng.
Villafuerte, however, echoed PCSO Director Sandra Cam’s claim that businessman Bong Pineda was using STL operations as a legal front for jueteng and that he was the real owner of Evenchance Gaming Corp., which was operating STL in his province.
To show this, he asked Evenchance president Osler Luis Canlas about the number of municipalities in Camarines Sur.
Canlas incorrectly answered 39, instead of 35.
For Villafuerte, Canlas’ lack of knowledge about this fact meant he was just a dummy.
“How can you have a business when you do not know how many towns you operate in?” Villafuerte said, claiming there was a violation of the Anti-Dummy Law.
Local execs disrespected
Also critical of PCSO General Manager Alexander Balutan’s leadership was Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr., who said the agency tapped a new STL operator, Speed Game Inc., without consulting local government officials.
Speed Game became the AAC in Pangasinan following the November cancellation of the permit of Golden Go Rapid Gaming Corp. for its low remittance.
Espino, however, bemoaned that Pangasinan officials were “never accorded courtesy or even consultation.”
He said PCSO’s lack of cooperation had led to problems in the coordination of law enforcement efforts.
On interpellation by Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, Gabuyo admitted that SMG did not even meet to tackle the approval of Speed Game as the AAC in Pangasinan.
“Therefore, you are violating all the rules,” Acop said.
Coming to PCSO’s defense, Tarlac Rep. Noel Villanueva quipped: “Even when there’s an increase in your revenue, it’s still being questioned.”
At the Senate hearing last week, Lacson told the PCSO that STL may be prohibited altogether under the proposed Philippine Charity Office if the agency could not control STL operations.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.