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Lottery king's vision 'dream for everybody'

Lottery king's vision 'dream for everybody'

On August 15, Cambodia's Royal Group and an Australian company, Kalamazoo, launched

what it called the most "technologically advanced" lottery in the country.

It promised international standards and eventually the country's biggest lottery

prize ever.

But so far, CamLot has received a tepid response, the company admits. They say that

overcoming the distrust of new methods and the competing illegal gambling rackets

are its main challenges. It has launched a campaign with the Ministry of Economy

and Finance (MEF) to remove the ubiquitous illegal lotteries from street corners

around the city.

Kith Meng, chairman of both Royal Group and CamLot, spoke of his vision for the firm

on September 19 at his office at MobiTel headquarters. He also serves as director

of the telecommunications company.

"Our vision is to create a modern lottery and a dream for everybody," he

says. "This lottery has more technology and is more modern and secure than any

other in Cambodia."

Meng says he is selling the dream that "when you buy a ticket you will win something".

The cost of the dream starts at 1000 riel. There are two games: Quickee Money Card,

a scratch card game with a top prize of $3,000, and 4Digit which delivers up to 4,000

times the original bet. In about a month, a third game, Lotto, will begin with a

maximum prize of about $30,000.

MobiTel, also owned by the Royal Group headed by Meng, is offering a phone wagering

option. The two companies have set up a system for people to place bets using text

messages.

Other established lotteries in Cambodia include Magnum, MGM and the Cambodian Lottery

Corporation. Seng Tong, the city's deputy governor, says that MEF has identified

20 licensed lottery companies in Phnom Penh, of which about half have set up lotteries.

But advanced technology sets CamLot apart, says Meng.

The companies are required to pay out a minimum of 50 percent of their revenue in

prize money, a typical requirement for the industry. At the moment, CamLot is paying

out about 55 percent of its earnings, says Noel Hill, CamLot's managing director.

Royal Group has established subsidiaries in a number of different sectors including

banking, telecommunications, construction, manufacturing, video production and aviation.

CamLot is the firm's most recent gamble, but Meng says the company itself is not

in the gambling business.

"Lottery is just luck" he says. "You buy your luck. Gambling is sitting

down and betting."

CamLot claims to be the most transparent lottery operation in Cambodia. Players can

see the lottery balls being drawn at CamLot's headquarters, financial statements

are audited by an internationally recognized firm to ensure that government taxes

are paid.

And CamLot should pay a lot of fees. It is subject to a 10 percent value-added tax,

an annual licensing fee, tax on each individual game and a National Royalty tax.

However, the company declined to give figures for how much it expects to pay the

government.

Meng hails the new standards as a step forward. He suggests that Cambodia is a chronic

underachiever in the lottery business. "We can do better in this country,"

he says.

There are 22 outlets in Phnom Penh selling CamLot tickets and one in Battambang.

The problem, says Hill, is that people are rather "cynical" about this

new lottery.

"They don't yet trust [a technologically advanced] lottery," he says. "They

are more comfortable playing an illegal betting game on the streets."

He says changing that attitude requires a "re-engineering and evolving of our

long-term plan". That means more marketing and removing competitors who are

luring potential CamLot gamblers away.

So how are ticket sales? No one will say.

Meng doesn't want to talk numbers, but says he plans to dominate half of the market

by 2004. However, he declined to talk about his ultimate goal for the company.

"I leave such work to the little guys. I have so many companies," he says.

"When you make a forecast, you have to consider turbulence and market fluctuation."

Mark Hanna, CamLot's finance manager, says the market for lotteries is relatively

unknown. The total market may range between $200,000 and $5 million per week.

"Nobody really knows what it's worth because it's mostly operated by underground

bookmakers," he says.

Both Hill and Meng say an investment of $2 million has already been poured into CamLot.

"It will end up being a lot more than that," Hanna says. "We're not

going to see any profit for years."

But the first priority, says Hill, is to remove illegal gambling operators.

"There is a raft of illegal bookmakers who are operating without paying taxes

and making it extremely difficult for legitimate companies like CamLot to operate,"

he says.

Meng says he plans to crack down on these illegal bookies in a joint operation with

the MEF. He is keen to solve the problem of these illegal operators that are hurting

his business. CamLot is working on a report that he says it will submit to MEF.

"We will give all the details of these illegal lotteries," he says, which

the company estimates to number in the hundreds.

Meng and Hill both say that CamLot aims to help establish clearly defined regulations.

"We need to figure out what regulations are in place, if any," says Hill.

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