By Atom Markarian
A regulatory government body took on Monday what appears to be a further steps towards banning one of Armenia’s most popular and lucrative private lotteries which is accused of fraud.
A Finance and Economy Ministry commission overseeing the country’s thriving gambling industry said the company called Harstutyun breached the existing gambling rules by delaying full payment of a hefty prize won by a 16-year-old schoolboy recently.
The man, Samvel Ramazian, won 800,000 drams ($1,415) from the Shahogh Lotto game operated by Harstutyun. He claims to have been initially paid 500,000 drams and to have received the rest of the money only after filing a complaint to the commission earlier this month.
The company denies the claims, saying that it paid the entire sum in early January. “It is possible that he made up this bogus story in order to hide some of the money from his parents,” its lawyer, Ara Zohrabian, said during commission hearings.
However, the commission headed by Deputy Finance Minister David Avetisian found Ramazian’s version of events credible and warned that it will launch court action to revoke Shahogh Lotto’s operating license if it detects another violation. “We register this as a case for suspending the lottery,” he said. “In the event of another such violation we will go to court with a request to declare the license void.”
Shahogh Lotto is already facing a separate fraud inquiry over its New Year’s Eve televised draw that proved controversial due to a discrepancy between the announced and actual numbers of lottery tickets shortlisted for a jackpot win. The organizers blamed that on a computer failure.
Avetisian’s commission says it is now investigating whether or not it was an unintentional mistake or a fraudulent trick. Observers believe that its decision is unlikely to favor the lottery. Harsutyun’s chairman, Eduard Oremian, already accuses the government of trying out squeeze his company out of business at the behest of its two main competitors that reportedly have government-connected owners. “This decision will definitely be challenged in the court,” Oremian said on Monday.
Shahogh Lotto’s emergence last year triggered renewed gambling boom in Armenia hyped by an unprecedented televised advertising featuring happy winners of cars, electronics and large amounts of cash. The government responded to the fever in December by getting the parliament to impose time limits on lottery adds.