Wolffe raises concerns about vetting of betting shop owners
The island’s top magistrate has raised concerns about whether the people who profit from Bermuda’s multimillion-dollar betting industry are properly vetted before they get a licence.
Juan Wolffe, chairman of the Betting Licensing Authority, told a hearing he was concerned about an apparent reluctance by the Ministry of Finance to conduct proper checks on betting shop owners and the $10,000 guarantees they were required to have.
He said the annual checks by the ministry were vital to ensure that people involved in the industry were of good financial standing and would not default on payouts.
Mr Wolffe added: “It just can’t be seen that this authority is rubber-stamping applications because then it really brings the whole process into prejudice or disrepute.”
He was speaking almost two years after a special report in The Royal Gazette revealed that background checks were not always done on betting shop owners and that non-Bermudians and anonymous trusts had held shares in betting shops.
Mr Wolffe aired his worries at a Betting Licensing Authority hearing last week as lawyers for four betting shops asked for licence renewals.
Michael Smith, for Seahorses in Hamilton and Gametime in Somerset and St George, said he awaited documents from the ministry to support the applications, but was sure that thorough checks were being conducted.
Mr Wolffe replied: “I’m glad. We have some times where we have requested a document or guarantee and literally the next day the letter arrives on our desk, which tells me there is not enough time. I’m glad that this year due diligence is being carried out.”
William Anthony King, for Triple Crown Racing, said he went through a “song and dance” every year to get the necessary paperwork from the ministry.
Mr King asked: “Do they do their due diligence?”
He said: “I am not sure because, as you say, it does come the next day.”
Mr King added that the Betting Act 1975 was “woefully inadequate” because it did not include a requirement for anti-money laundering and antiterrorism financing checks.
The Act requires people who apply for a bookmaker’s licence to have a certificate from the Minister of Finance to confirm that he is satisfied about their business reputation and financial stability.
A $10,000 bank guarantee or one “by not less than two persons acceptable to the minister” is also needed.
Simone Smith-Bean, for Paradise Games in Hamilton, said: “The ministry says they don’t feel the need to be issuing a certificate every year.”
Mr Wolffe said the ministry should get an opinion from the Attorney-General’s Chambers on the subject.
He explained: “Our view, and I think it’s a logical view, is that persons and circumstances change from year to year. That person’s business reputation changes from year to year.
“A person could literally be solvent on April 1, but not solvent on July 10. Our view is that it should be something that’s done every year.”
Mr Wolffe said: “It just boggles my mind that every year we are asking this and the ministry seems not to understand why it’s required. It seems as if there is confusion. It’s not our statutory duty, it’s theirs ... It’s the minister’s purview, not ours.
“We can’t speak to a company’s viability. That’s the minister’s job to do that, to make sure that those places are covered in the event of $10,000, which I think is a measly sum anyway. Any time, it’s always a struggle.”
Mr Wolffe said there seemed to be a “notion” that the authority was responsible for checks on the financial stability of betting shops.
However, he added: “We are the ones who wait for the ministers to do their jobs ... We can’t do anything unless we get that information.”
He said he was “somewhat disturbed” by the position taken by the finance ministry.
Mr Wolffe added: “We need to be satisfied before we sign out any licences.”
He said: “I’d like to think the ministry does not think it’s a burden on them. It’s quite serious for us.
“How does an authority regulate an industry if we can’t be certain that the industry is being run by persons who have a good financial standing and reputation?”
Mr Wolffe emphasised that the owners were not to blame for the delays and that there had been no complaints from police about antisocial behaviour at any of the betting shops.
He said the licences for the four shops were valid until March 31 and the certificates and guarantees needed to be received before then, along with a letter to confirm the shops’ services had not changed since last year.
A Ministry of Finance spokeswoman said: “In accordance with the Betting Act 1975, the ministry conducts the necessary due diligence each year on applicants to confirm that their business reputation and financial stability meets the requirements of the Act.”
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