Supreme game of choices as retailers feel the heatThursday, April 08, 2021
BY E A RUDOLPH
I make reference to a Jamaica Observer story published December 13, 2020, titled 'Battle for lottery pawns: Sellers caught in the crossfire as two new players prepare to enter multi-billion-dollar industry'.
During my childhood my mother administered punishment by using a tamarind 'switch' to apply several painful lashes on my naked buttocks. My loud crying would irritate her and, as she got angrier, she would threaten: “A weh yuh a cry fah, yuh waan mi gi yuh something fi cry fah!”
I had to stifle the tears for mercy to be given to me.
Is it by coincidence that several lottery retailers for Supreme Ventures Limited (SVL) have had their agreements reportedly terminated after they signed up with new entrants Mahoe and/or Goodwill lottery companies?
Other retailers who come out in support of what appears to be not in the spirit of the Fair Trading Act risk similar termination of their contracts. When SVL is questioned on its actions, the response is a denial of the allegations.
To terminate a contract SVL only has to invoke its “Exit Clause 3.O” under the Retailers' Agreement, and that is their right. However, it is not difficult to check if only retailers who have signed up with the new lotto entrants have had their agreements terminated.
Some of us have served SVL faithfully for many years, and the arbitrary termination is having a painful effect on our livelihoods and that of our employees already taking a battering from the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Where is the compassion and the empathy?
The local lottery competition is now sizzling, with the three actors in the theatre (SVL, Izizzi, LP Lotto) competing on all fronts for their share of the multi-billion-dollar industry. Selling for more than one of the competitors does not hurt them, as punters will always buy the game of their choice.
A retailer's business is purely based on making money by a simple process of satisfying the customers within the industry. It is foolhardy to think that punters are only loyal to one product and will not want to try their luck on a new product. Though there will be brand loyalty, it is reasonable to expect that the punters will split the gambling dollar in a ratio of their choosing to win.
When more companies are competing for the same market share customers will choose those with lower pricing that offers greater perceived benefits. The punters will choose and take their chances where the rewards are greater. This is quite understandable.
Lottery companies should, therefore, compete on the basis of the value of returns to betters, not by stifling retailers.
Why would retailers be expected to train, rent establishments, hire staff, and then not take advantage of the expanded market by selling for any new entrants? The answer is fear. Purely out of fear of termination for selling for more than one company, some retailers resorted to covert action by setting up a shop in someone else's name to disguise their involvement with one or both new entrants. Others have just caved in to the pressure of threatened termination.
The Sunday Observer article quoted a rather curious statement by SVL's executive chairman that its agents were being “bullied” by the new lotto entrants to sell their products, even before they started operation. How is it possible to perform this role of being a bully before entering the market?
He further added that: “Retailers have a choice to take on other equipment. This matter was sorted out when SVL and Jamaica Lottery were in the market at the same time and the Fair Trading Commission ruled that a retailer can take more than one piece of equipment, which is why the allegation [from some retailers] doesn't make sense.”
On Monday, December 14, 2020, SVL hosted a 'Retailers' Discussion' with its Prime Sports Jamaica Limited CEO on the new actors in the theatre and their potential impact in the gaming industry. During the Q&A (question and answer) portion of the exchange some retailers interpreted comments by the CEO as thinly veiled threats or hints that if they were tempted to do business with either new entrant SVL would part ways by removing its terminals and other equipment. He openly stated that what SVL was looking for was some “loyal retailers”.
SVL announced two 'breaking news' after the two new entrants started their operation. The first was increasing its betting odds from 26:1 to 28:1, and days later it was further increased to 30.5:1 — surpassing Izizzi Lotto and LP Lotto, respectively.
It has been heavily rumoured that another application was made by SVL to further move its odds to 50:1. Please note this would mean a sure return of 39 per cent on a $1 bet. All punters would win providing they have the finance to purchase 36 numbers. This strategy, I'm sure, is devised in the hope to kill off the competition, and this is not good because SVL would thereby maintain its monopolistic power.
As I said earlier, SVL has the right under the Retailers' Agreement to terminate the agent relationship. The termination letter went no further and gave no explanation for the action. It reads in part: “Either party may terminate this agreement at any time by giving to the other party at least 30 days notice in writing…”
If the termination of a retailer's agreement was not caused by a breach of SVL's policy, then it begs the question why?
It is also noticeable that SVL did not even express appreciation for service rendered by its former retailers. There is no hint of gratitude as a token of regard for the service of retailers who ultimately helped to make the SVL brand what it is today.
Retailers have more power than what they think and should unite and send a loud message that enough is enough of SVL's dictatorial behaviour towards them.
SVL branded my business outlet in December 2020 for the first time since the start of its operation in 2001, and then unbranded it in March 2021. Its workers came to my business establishment with various hand tools and removed all its signage. It was very embarrassing, to say the least, as some punters were murmuring that, “A must tief dem tief di people dem money why dem a lock down di shop.”
After 25 years in the business selling for various bookmakers such as Golden Horse, Post to Post, Caymanas Track Limited, The Jamaica Lottery Company, Transaction e-Pin, and withstanding a spate of armed robberies, none of the foregoing closed the doors of my business, but SVL did.
I made several appeals for a stay of execution based on the potential job loss and the negative impact on the community who loved our franchise. I had eight employees with a total of 19 dependents. I have had many sleepless nights contemplating the potential fallout it would have on my business.
While some retailers were being terminated with no explanation, new ones were being signed up by SVL. It is like making a job redundant and later employing someone for the said job.
E A Rudolph is a terminated SVL retailer. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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