Published On: Tue, Dec 18th, 2018

Court denies Smartplay right to text message lottery

Courthouse 20180704

Philipsburg — Telecom provider UTS does not have to offer services for phone lotteries to Smartplay, the company doing business as Robbie’s Lottery in St. Maarten. The Common Court of Justice rejected Smartplay’s appeal against an earlier court ruling in a decision that was published last week.

More than ten years ago, on March 8, 2008, Smartplay entered into an agreement with UTS-parent company Radcomm to facilitate the sale of lottery tickets via SMS (text messaging). The agreement was for a period of three years and was extended several times with one year.

On August 18, 2016, Radcomm informed Smartplay that it would terminate services to the providers of games of chance “due to several developments.” The telecom provider announced that it would terminate the contract with Smartplay per March 8, 2017.

However, UTS wrote to Smartplay: “UTS Eastern Caribbean remains prepared to enter into a dialogue with Smartplay about offering services under the guarantee that offering these services will not create unrest in and around UTS.”

And unrest there was plenty after the assassinated Pueblo Soberano leader Helmin Wiels announced an investigation into irregularities with the sms-services Smartplay offered via UTS. The telecom provider was drawn into the quagmire surrounding the embattled owner of Robbie’s Lottery, Robbie dos Santos.

Negotiations between Radcomm and Smartplay resulted in several postponements of the termination of the contract.

Om May 23, 2017, UTS announced its preparedness to renew the contract under three conditions.  The first one was that Smartplay would establish its own billing platform for the balance of its customers; the second condition was that Smartplay had to obtain a 900-number for commercial information services from the local telecom supervisor – that would be the Bureau Telecommunication and Post.

In July 2017, UTS reported back to Smartplay that it had met these two conditions. But the third condition remained elusive: “a permit for offering games of chance in several areas.”

To be more specific: Smartplay had to show a permit for offering its lottery tickets via sms. “In case Smartplay does have a lottery permit, it will have to state explicitly the phone lottery; or the competent authority will have to confirm in writing that the permit allows phone lottery,” UTS wrote to Smartplay.

On August 15, 2017, UTS terminated the contract with Smartplay. The lottery company demanded in a procedure at the Court in First Instance that the court orders UTS to continue offering its services. The court denied the demand and Smartplay appealed the verdict.

UTS indicated during the court procedure that it had repeatedly suffered negative publicity from its contract with Smartplay. “Obviously, UTS refers to the negative publicity associated with the online games of chance industry in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom,” the appeals court notes in its ruling.

The court furthermore notes that the conditions set by UTS are “not unreasonable.” Furthermore, the court ruled, Smartplay did not present a permit that explicitly allows phone lottery. The permit it obtained in 2014 “seems to suggest that the permit refers to lotteries that take place at a fixed location. Smartplay did not obtain a written statement from the government to confirm that its permit also includes phone lotteries.

The court ruled that the lower court justly denied Smartplay’s demand for continued service by UTS.