ALC's GeoSweep questioned by NDP leader

NDP Leader Dominic Cardy is attacking the Liberal Opposition over the province's investment in a lottery game that's failing to catch on.

Cardy says the Liberals should have questioned the government on the lottery

Questions are being raised about the New Brunswick government's investment into ALC's GeoSweep lottery game. (ALC)

NDP Leader Dominic Cardy is attacking the Liberal Opposition over the province's investment in a lottery game that's failing to catch on.

The New Brunswick government has spent about $4 million on a game called GeoSweep, which was imported from the United Kingdom.

"It seems we've found the only lottery in the world that isn't making a profit," Cardy said.

The New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island governments opted into the GeoSweep investment, each contributing $4 million. The Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador governments did not invest in the company.

The NDP leader said the Liberals should have known about it because it was publicly documented more than a year ago.

GeoSweep is a lottery game similar to other ALC offerings, albeit with a digital — and geographical — twist.

Instead of picking numbers, players go online to pick a location on a map of Atlantic Canada. There are more than 2.3 million such locations, called Geos, up for grabs. The cost to own a Geo is $7.50 for 30 days, which works out to 25 cents daily.

There is one guaranteed daily prize of $1,000, which is selected from Geos that are actually owned. Neighbouring Geos are eligible to share another $500.

A big prize of $250,000 is also up for grabs every day. That draw, however, includes all Geos, whether they are occupied or not. No one has won the $250,000 to date.

Government accountability

He said he believes they should have used their membership on the Standing Committee on Crown corporations to demand accountability from cabinet and executives at the Atlantic Lottery Corp.

"I have no more of an axe to grind with the Liberals than I do with the Conservatives," Cardy told CBC News.

"I have a problem with a legislative system where, starting at the beginning, we have [Finance] Minister [Blaine] Higgs and the cabinet making decisions that make absolutely no sense, that we're investing money in a lottery, rather than in health and education — things the government actually does a good job of spending money on."

He also questioned why the government would make such a large investment into something that wouldn't create New Brunswick jobs.

Opposition leader Victor Boudreau raised questions about the investment last week.

Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault, the opposition's finance critic, shares Cardy's concerns that the money spent on GeoSweep may have been better spent on social programs.

But he is defending his party's efforts at holding the government to account.

"We've raised many issues on poverty reduction, on fracking, on senior care, and many other issues in the province of New Brunswick," Arseneault said.

"There's many issues that the Liberal Opposition has been raising in the legislature and in the public's eye.

"So when you say that we're not doing our job, I take big offence to that. We're doing our job pretty good."

The ALC has a responsibility to be more forthcoming about sales numbers and how it plans to make GeoSweep a success, Arseneault said.

"We have to wait and see what the numbers are. I wish they would be a little bit more open in terms of providing some of their sales numbers and how many people are buying into this program as of now to see where it's going. And I think they have the responsibility to do that. And hopefully the premier and the minister of finance can do the same thing too."

Lessons to be learned

Meanwhile, Cardy says he hopes the provincial government has learned its lesson.

"Perhaps they would avoid making future ill-advised decisions and that at the 14th meeting of the Crown corporation’s committee, since this became public, that the Liberals will hold them to account and use their three seats there to really rake the Conservative government over the coals on this."

CBC News reported this week that GeoSweep has failed to take off in the U.K. In March, income from the game in the entire country was just 100 pounds a day, or roughly $160.