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Lottery bids expected this afternoon

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Several would-be operators are expected to file bids today in the state’s plan to privatize its $2.8 billion lottery system, despite ongoing protests from a retail group and skepticism from some lawmakers.

After two postponements of the bidding deadline, submissions are due at 2 p.m. today, a spokesman for the state Treasury Department said. Four companies from as far away as Greece are expected to offer proposals.

But one of the most vocal critics of the state’s plan, the Green Brook-based Asian-American Retailers Association, is still calling the effort premature. Satish V. Poondi, director of legislative affairs for the group, said ideas such as the launch of online lottery sales would hurt small retailers, but the association has been unable to find an audience with the Chris Christie administration and Republican lawmakers.

“What we’re trying to do is create that dialogue, because we think it’s necessary for the governor to hear from retailers such as ourselves,” said Poondi, whose group formed the Big Gamble NJ coalition. “At every level we’ve tried to initiate that discussion.”

Poondi would not rule out a lawsuit, he said, though he was still hopeful the administration would at least listen to retail stakeholders. The governor’s press office referred questions to the Treasury Department, which did not immediately return a follow-up call early this afternoon.

New Jersey is not the only state considering a privatized lottery system. Published reports this week say in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett has been negotiating with Camelot Global Services, a British firm that submitted the lone bid for the contract. But the plan also faces uncertainty, with Corbett reportedly trying to persuade Camelot to extend its bid past Dec. 31 as the state’s lottery employees’ union prepares an alternative plan.

Camelot is also one of four firms that met with New Jersey officials in September and that were expected to submit bids today. The firms also include New York-based Scientific Games; Greece-based Intralot; and Lottomatica, the Italian company that owns Providence, R.I.-based GTECH Corp. GTECH has been supplying lottery technology to the Garden State since 1984.

The retailers group has found support from some Democratic lawmakers, but the administration appears to be moving forward. Still, Poondi said it was tough to believe that the state wouldn’t “just hear us out before you change this entire system,” which includes 6,500 retailers statewide

“Maybe you don’t agree with us, but why wouldn’t you just sit down with the small businessman?” he said. “That, to me, doesn’t make sense — to change the system without first doing that.”

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