(Jamaica Observer) United States Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia has cited national security concerns as the reason he has objected to the use of Chinese firm Genlot Game Technology as the back-end provider for new local lottery company Mahoe Gaming.
Last week news broke that Tapia had written to the Jamaican Government expressing concern about the use of Genlot by Mahoe Gaming, which has been granted a lottery licence by the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC).
But, in a release over the weekend, Michelle Myers Mayne, chair of Mahoe Gaming, sought to defend its choice of the Chinese firm to conduct its back office operations.
“We sought a world-rated provider of lottery technology to allow us to maximise enjoyment and improve the experience for the Jamaican consumer. Mahoe will offer consumers a proven system from Genlot, the number one partner in the gaming industry in China,” said Myers Mayne in a backhanded response to Tapia.
According to Myers Mayne, Mahoe Gaming is poised to introduce a suite of new lottery products, having been awarded a licence from BGLC.
“We are delighted to offer new and exciting options to players, support social enhancement programmes, generate employment, and provide revenue to the Government with our products,” said Myers Mayne.
“We believe it is time to bring new choice to the players through competition and the introduction of new technologies, and will endeavour to complete all required due diligence with the BGLC,” added Myers Mayne.
Yesterday, Tapia used an interview on Nationwide News Network programme This Morning to provide the reasons behind his decision to write the Andrew Holness-led Administration, through the Ministry of National Security.
“The gambling industry involves a significant collection of… sensitive, personal, and financial data which is like opening a bank. I do not object to [a] local gambling [entity] entering the market so long as the company, its contractor and its directors have been properly vetted, [a] step I do not believe has been taken yet,” said Tapia.
“This leads to my concerns that the company [Mahoe Gaming] will utilise technology provided by… Genlot, [which] works closely with Huawei [by using its equipment to transmit data]. This is something that a lot of Jamaicans do not realise,” added Tapia.
The US has long expressed apprehension that the Huawei technology is being used by the Chinese Government for espionage, and Tapia yesterday charged that Huawei is obligated to support and cooperate with Chinese State intelligence agencies.
“I am concerned, and Jamaicans should be concerned, that you are opening the doors to Chinese intelligence services to access specific personal data on both Jamaican and American citizens.
“To mitigate this risk, the BGLC and the Minister of Finance [Dr Nigel] Clarke must ensure that Genlot’s vetting is done with the same scrutiny which the current technology company… was vetted in 2001,” declared Tapia.
The US ambassador argued that the BGLC must ensure the protection and integrity of the personal data collected by Mahoe Gaming.
“If this cannot be done… the BGLC should reconsider the licence [granted to Mahoe Gaming] and seek a company that is able to protect sensitive personal data,” said Tapia.
In a statement late yesterday, Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission Executive Director Vitus Evans insisted approval of a licence to promote a lottery does not extend to approval of any proposed technical service provider.
“The subsequent stages in the process must be successfully completed before the licensee is given approval to commence commercial operations,” Evans pointed out.
He explained that the next stages of the process require the licensee to establish financial surety and undergo rigorous multi-jurisdictional due diligence investigations on the proposed technical service provider, sales agents and retail premises.
“If the findings of the due diligence investigations are negative at any stage in this process, the BGLC does not grant approval and the lottery promoter has the option to identify alternative technical service providers and resubmit new information for the commission’s consideration,” Evans said. “Only when the commission is satisfied with the findings of the due diligence investigations is approval to commence operations granted.”
The US ambassador also issued a statement yesterday following his interview on radio, noting that he had a “fruitful discussion” with Dr Clarke and had the opportunity to see the independent review of the lottery application process conducted by former contractor general and former member of the Integrity Commission, Dr Derrick McKoy, and the Supreme Court decision in the matter of Prime Sports vs the Betting, Gaming, and Lottery Commission.
“This shows that the lottery application procedures followed were in accordance with Jamaican law and that the BGLC is authorised under Jamaican law as the sole authority to receive, review, and grant lottery licences in Jamaica.
“I have been apprised that the licence issued to Mahoe Gaming constitutes only the second stage of a multi-stage process and does not represent approval to commence commercial operations. That approval for commercial operations, I now understand, can only begin after thorough vetting of the technical services provider,” he said.
Tapia, however, reiterated that Genlot must be thoroughly vetted to ensure that it does not endanger Jamaica’s national security or has access to the personal information of the millions of Americans who visit the island each year.
In its release last weekend, Mahoe Gaming said it brings a collaboration of strong Jamaican industry leaders along with extensive lottery industry experience to the business.
Mahoe’s board includes Mayne of Restaurants of Jamaica, director Paul Scott of the Musson Group, and director Lise-Anne Hoo Harris, who began her career in finance at National Commercial Bank and is now an entrepreneur operating bakeries.
The CEO of Mahoe Gaming is Christopher Caldwell, the former International Game Technology (IGT) PLC senior vice-president of Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to Mahoe, in his role at IGT, Caldwell provided lottery technology and consulting services to Supreme Ventures Limited and lotteries around the world.
Mayne argued that the long-anticipated introduction of a fresh lottery is expected to generate scores of new jobs across the island.
The US Embassy in Kingston had raised similar security concerns about the operations of telecommunications provider Caricel, which had it licence withdrawn by the Holness Administration.