Covid-19: Minister puts a stop to lottery ticket sales

Unclear why National Lotteries Commission was selling a non-essential good during lockdown

Photo of Minister Ebrahim Patel

Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel said on Saturday that lottery tickets are not an essential good and should not be sold. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

By Raymond Joseph

25 April 2020

The Lottery is not classified as an essential service and tickets may not be sold during the Covid-19 lockdown, Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel said during a media briefing on Saturday.

Despite the restriction on ticket sales, Ithuba went ahead with a massive R228-million PowerBall and PowerBall Plus jackpot draw last night. It was the biggest Lottery jackpot since 2015 and the fourth biggest since the Lottery was launched in South Africa almost two decades ago.

Patel, who has oversight over the Lottery, said he had told officials from his department to instruct the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) to issue a statement “clarifying that [the sale] of Lotto tickets is not permitted during this period”.

GroundUp reported on Friday that while all other in-person forms of gambling had been stopped because of the stringent lockdown regulations, the sale of Lottery tickets by retail outlets was continuing.

Patel was responding to a question about why the sale of Lottery tickets was still permitted.

A statement issued by NLC spokesman Ndivuho Mafela on 3 April, indicated that there was an exemption allowing the sale of Lottery tickets during the lockdown.

“As the regulator of the National Lottery, the NLC has taken note of the Presidential lockdown directive and as such, has activated an exemption clause on lottery play in South Africa,” Mafela said in the statement.

Specific questions about this exemption sent to Mafela, Ithuba spokesperson Busi Msize and DTI Trade and Industry spokesman Sidwell Medupe prior to the publication of Friday’s story were ignored by all three of them.

But Patel’s response during the media conference casts doubt on whether the NLC had applied for — or been granted — an exemption on Lottery ticket sales.

“The rules are absolutely clear…[they] are not an essential product,” Patel said in response to the question. “They are not in the regulations as an essential product and so Lotto tickets are not able to be sold … They should not be sold at the moment.”

Patel said it had been brought to his attention on Friday that there were “claims” that Lottery tickets were being sold. “I had asked my officials to make it very clear to the NLC that they needed to issue a statement clarifying that Lotto tickets are not permitted in this period,” Patel said.

Questions about Patel’s statement, including a request for details of the exemption used to sell Lottery tickets, have been sent to the NLC and Ithuba. If they respond, this story will be updated to reflect their answers.

Update at 18:45 on 25 April

In response to the Minister’s instruction, the NLC, on Saturday afternoon, issued a statement confirming that “the sale of lottery tickets at retailers is not classified as an essential good.”

The statement adds: “The sale of National Lottery tickets at retail terminals is prohibited during the national lockdown.” It did not explain why the NLC had earlier claimed to have an “exemption” allowing Lottery ticket sales to continue.

Although the minister addressed the prohibition on the sale of lottery tickets in general, it is clear from the statement that the NLC plans to only halt sales at retail outlets and to allow online ticket sales.

For the past few weeks, both the NLC and Ithuba have actively promoted online ticket sales, via the Lottery’s own app and banking platforms.