1/4/09 – The on again, off again, long running Thai government project to take the national lottery online was making local headlines in media like the Bangkok Post and The Nation again this week as Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced yet another review of the delay-plagued project.
The Thailand Trade Representative's office will set up a committee to find ways to prevent the online lottery from emerging in Thailand, Vejjajiva said, announcing that he had assigned TTR president Kiat Sittheeamorn to look into the online lottery regulations and study its impact on society. The committee will have 30 days to work on the issue before reporting back to the PM.
The prime minister was unequivocal in expressing his own views on the project, saying: "I personally am opposed to the idea of an online lottery."
He said the government will solve one of the main problems used as a justification for introducing online wagering on the lottery – vendors over-charging for tickets – as the problem was due to the market mechanism.
The prime minister's action triggered an immediate political and commercial reaction.
A spokesman for concessionaire company Loxley GTech Technology said the directors were considering its "legal positions" over any decision.
"It is not yet final or certain the online lottery project will be abolished," chief executive Treejak Tansupasiri of Loxley GTech Technology said. "We will only wait and see. But whatever will be, will be. Society will make its decision on whether it will need an online lottery."
Tansupasiri went on to make the point: "As the vendor who has invested in this project, [we cannot say] if a lawsuit will be lodged against the government if it decides to abolish the project, but Loxley's legal division is studying legal options over the issue."
The prime minister acknowledged that the government remained bound by the online lottery contract, but he claimed that Thai law did not permit an online lottery.
Government Lottery Office director Wanchai Surakul, who gave the project a greenlight on December 4 this year, said a GLO meeting on January 13, 2010 would discuss the issue and work out subsequent measures.
"We still have time to deal with the matter, for it to be solved within 90 days after the GLO board decided on December 4 to go ahead," he advised media.
The Nation reported that Loxley GTech has invested billions of baht in the online lottery project. Using its technology, punters could buy tickets with numbers of their choice through vending machines with an online realtime database. They could keep receipts as evidence in case they won prizes in each draw.
Thawatchai Sathitwitthaya, chairman of Ticket Lottery Vendors' Association, said he was shocked by Abhisit's decision to possibly abolish the online lottery project. He said Abhisit should have brought up the issue three or even six months ago, not immediately before the online lottery launch in March. His group would take action after a meeting this month.
Worrawut Kamolwitthayanont, chairman of an umbrella group of vendors of the now defunct two and three digit lottery operation, said a large number of his group had threatened to join an anti-government rally planned by the red shirts in February if the online lottery project was scrapped.
Pheu Thai opposition party MP Surapong Towijakchaikul, chairman of the House committee on finance and banking, said the abolition of the online lottery would please operators of illicit underground lotteries which despised Thaksin and the Pheu Thai Party for inventing the two and three digit lottery operation. The prices of lottery tickets would continue to be inflated, while funding would be lost for education of poor children mobilised through the sales of the two and three digit lottery operation.
In addition, the government would be liable for huge compensation and a fine demanded by Loxley GTech if it scrapped the project and lost a subsequent lawsuit, he warned.