New Rother lottery ‘low risk for problem gambling’

Rother could soon have its own local lottery, after proposals gained the backing of council leaders this week. 

Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 2:22 pm
Rother is set to establish a new community lottery

On Monday (February 8), Rother District Council cabinet members agreed to support plans to create a local lottery scheme and bring in an outside party to run it.

If established, the lottery would be expected to provide funding to both the council’s community grants scheme and to local community groups directly.

Introducing the plans, cabinet member for finance Kevin Dixon said: “The community grants currently are funded from reserves. 

“About £130,000 every year is removed from reserves. This is something that we have inherited and something that is unsustainable.

“We cannot be using reserves like this for ever more, because the reserves will run out. This is the first step in trying to address that. 

“We are absolutely committed to community grants in one form or another and this is the first part of funding the community grants on a regular basis.

“We recognise that this will not actually cover all of the community grants money that we want, but it is a start.”

In drawing up its plans for the scheme, the council considered two options for setting up a local lottery, either running it in-house or employing an external manager.

According to officers, setting up an in-house lottery would cost the council somewhere in the region of £80,000 to £100,000, as it would involve creating several new posts and setting-up new systems. 

This, officers said, would also result in a significant financial risk to the council, particularly should the lottery prove to be unsuccessful. 

As a result officers are instead recommending the council bring in an licenced External Lottery Manager (ELM), as the financial risk would be passed on to that provider. 

If brought on the ELM would deliver all aspects of running the lottery, including ticket sales, revenue collection, prize management and licensing.

However, this saw some concerns raised at the cabinet meeting by Conservative councillor John Barnes.

Cllr Barnes said: “I won’t comment on the gambling aspect [although] there will be people worried about whether this does encourage a growing problem of gambling. 

“I have watched small lotteries in operation in my own village; in supporting the village hall and supporting Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, so I am well aware of their advantages.” 

He added: “Frankly I believe we could do this very cost-effectively in-house and that would maximise the profits to our own services and to the grants.

“If we are going to do it can we look seriously at whether we are not trying to spend far too much on an over elaborate computer system.

“At the end of the day, on the 1,800 to 2,000 takers which I think you are hoping to take, that actually could be handled at a minimal cost in house and we would have more money for good causes and lottery grants.”

Officers disagreed with this assessment, however, arguing that the costs of buying in the lottery service was ‘reasonable’. To run the lottery itself, they added, the council would also have to hire on a new staff, which would be very costly. 

Concerns about lottery scheme

Some concerns were also raised around the morality of shifting the funding of the community grants scheme towards a lottery scheme.

It was a particular concern for Northern Rother councillor Martin Mooney (Con), who  said he was ‘disgusted’ by the plans.

He said: “I have to report my disgust at this. Frankly the community is the community, we owe them something. 

“It is nice to give them something back, these projects that have been developed by them for the benefit of the community, and to pass it on with lottery money is almost obnoxious. 

“It is not the work of the council to raise money by gambling anyway. So I am totally against it.”

Cabinet felt differently, however, arguing the lottery would have safeguards in place and allow for “sustainable funding” for the council’s community grants  scheme.

Christine Bayliss, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “I am part of the community grants committee, so I know the fantastic work they do. The money that is provided may be in small amounts, but it has a really big impact. 

“I think it is obvious to everybody that this money is coming out of reserves and that has got to change.

“I’ve thought through all the various different options and this seems to me – especially in terms of the small grants system – to be a good solution, with plenty of safeguards if anybody is worried about encouraging gambling and those sorts of side effects.

“This is not going to turn us into scratch-card Bexhill or Rother.” 

Susan Prochak, the council’s deputy leader, added that the type of lottery, which she compared to a tombola or raffle, was considered low risk for problem gambling as the tickets could not be bought on impulse and had deferred rewards.

Despite this, she said there would be safeguards in place, such as anyone buying more than 20 tickets being contacted by the lottery manager.

Cabinet also heard how the top prize for the draw would be set at around £25,000 and that those buying tickets could designate a preference for which organisation their purchase should benefit.

With the backing of cabinet members, the proposals are expected to be put to a full council vote in the near future.