Friday, 14 December 2012

Competitions of luck not so lucky

(Consumer Column - Namibian Newspaper - 6 December 2012)

I would love to win a car for Xmas, or even just a shopping hamper. It’s that time of the year when each of us hopes and desires are higher than normal. We not only want more money for ourselves, but also that we can buy things for people we care about. Companies understand this of course and are busy doing everything to tempt us to think only of today, not the January we all know is around the corner.

As a consumer we understand that our relationship with business is one of mutual benefit. Nevertheless, we also expect our government to create laws that will not leave us powerless when we want compensation when things go wrong, or at least laws that will prevent outright abuse of us as the people of the country.

As a consumer advocate, and someone who cannot see injustice without at least writing about it, I am worried when the government does not do its job.

Before Independence there were laws governing lotteries, raffle tickets and other games of luck. When it was decided that Namibia would legalise gambling this law had to be revised and updated. Unfortunately, the lawmakers concentrated on casinos and gambling houses and forgot about other games of skill. This has left a loophole which is being abused.

To give an example: You and I can come together and decide to hold a raffle with a car as the prize. We will print tickets and even get a car to be shown at one of the car dealers. Our aim will be to sell tickets to raise N$ 400 000 and the car will be valued at N$ 200 000. Till thus far it sounds like something each of us have participated in the hope of winning. However, once we have collected the money I will ensure you (as my partner) will win the car. I will keep the money we collect and you win the car. This is a really good business idea for you and me, but what about the other people who all bought a ticket? I am sure they would not buy a ticket if they knew they would not win.

Or what about selling scratch cards that promise you cash if you get a certain number of pictures that match? Would you buy a scratch card if you knew that not a single card that was printed actually has a winning combination?
Or how about a competition that you enter by sending an SMS where the promoters promises that the first person to send an SMS is going to win? Surely they would not continue charging people who send in an SMS after the prize has been won?

You as a consumer would think that you are protected against this kind of business venture, right? Wrong. I had the opportunity to discuss the new gambling bill that is being discussed around the country and found out that the present law does not cover this kind of business activity. If you participate in these games of luck (and sometimes the business even suggests it is a game of skill), you have no place to complain. The promoters might be acting unethically, but they are not acting illegally.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is in the process of speaking to stakeholders and they need complete this as soon as possible and get this legislation to parliament to make sure that we as the citizens are protected.
So next time you give your hard earned money in the hope you win something, think carefully about whether you actually know you stand a chance of winning in a fair manner.

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