Wolffe: betting shop licences warning
Applications for betting shop licences may be “rubber-stamped” by the Government, the chairman of the Betting Licensing Authority warned yesterday.
Juan Wolffe, the senior magistrate, questioned how much investigation could be done if a request for a certificate was requested from the Ministry of Finance and granted inside a week.
Mr Wolffe said: “We rely very heavily on the guarantee and on the minister’s certificate.
“We place ourselves in legal jeopardy in a sense if we were not to grant a licence where there’s a certificate from the minister even if the minister didn’t do his due diligence, and that’s the trouble we have.”
He was speaking as two betting shop owners appeared before the authority for licence renewals.
Anthony King, the lawyer for bookmaker Triple Crown, told the panel that he had been given assurances by both Butterfield Bank and the Ministry of Finance that he would receive letters before today and showed e-mails to back that up.
Mr King told the panel he had been asked to send the ministry a reference to confirm that Triple Crown was in good standing.
Mr Wolffe asked: “So they didn’t ask from you any documents in terms of your finances to be able to ascertain the financial stability?”
Mr King confirmed that was the case.
He said: “My understanding was all he needed was a reference and a name and he was able to do it from that. He received the gentleman’s name and that was all he required.”
Mr Wolffe said that, given increased attention to ways to block money laundering, he would have expected a more rigorous investigation by the ministry.
Mr Wolffe added: “The narrative that is out there is that betting shops are a vulnerable industry. That’s the narrative that’s out there. I’m not saying that’s the case with your shop.”
Albert Steede, the owner of bookmakers Seahorses and Gametime, said he had received letters from the minister and a bank to confirm the operation’s reputation and financial stability.
He said the ministry could have checked the businesses’ tax records and would have also been able to check if any writs had been filed against them.
The panel pointed out that a company might pay taxes but still not be financially stable.
Mr Wolffe said: “We are not going to go behind what the minister has done because we don’t know what the minister has done.”
He added: “We rely on the information. We also don’t have the power to revoke licences. That’s the minister’s job.
“We are doing our part but much of what we do is based on relying on what the minister does or does not do.”
Mr Wolffe said the legislation designed to govern the sector in Bermuda needed to be updated and the Government had already signalled it would move control from the BLA to the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.
He added: “We have always been saying that the Betting Licensing Act is archaic. It’s old. It doesn’t reflect much of the modern technology that exists.
“In order to preserve the integrity of the betting industry, there should be tight controls.”
The panel told both applicants that they would receive a decision before the end of this week.