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Neil Inchcup Sr (1936-2018)

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Always thinking: visionary businessman Neil Inchcup Sr

Neil Inchcup Sr, a self-made businessman who pioneered gambling in Bermuda, has died at the age of 82.

Mr Inchcup took the island by storm in 1994 with Freeport Bingo, which was broadcast on TV but ran afoul of the law.

Other ventures included longline fishing, gambling machines and the casino ship The Niobe Corinthian.

Dawn Hanley, a friend and business associate and broadcaster who called out the numbers for Freeport Bingo, said Mr Inchcup was “an entrepreneur who was always looking to the future”.

Ms Hanley added: “Neil was always thinking of new businesses, looking for things that would benefit Bermuda and bring employment for Bermudians.

“He always thought ahead and he was ahead of his time on a host of things.

“Neil also did a lot for people in need — family and non-family. He was a kind soul.

“His own mother had passed away years ago, and when he met my mother, Lofay Darrell, he adopted her as his. He moved heaven and earth for her.”

Ms Hanley said her friend, nicknamed “Inchy”, was “a natural comedian who could crack a joke in a heartbeat”.

Mr Inchcup’s first business was a laundromat in Pembroke in the 1970s and he opened the New Freeport restaurant in Dockyard in 1993 with his son, Neil Jr. But his bingo venture, which was aired from the Clocktower Mall in Dockyard, was an instant and controversial success. Residents flocked to the premises, where an Autotronic Bingo King machine jumbled numbered balls.

TV bingo also drew hundreds of viewers, but other establishments quickly protested that Mr Inchcup was breaking the law.

Police told The Royal Gazette in 1994 that bingo outside of sports and workmen’s clubs did not appear to break regulations.

Ms Hanley said her colleague had consulted lawyers and been assured it was “above board”.

A case was brought to court in 1995 and Mr Inchcup and DeFontes Broadcasting Company Ltd lost after a magistrate ruled that bingo was only permitted in places licensed to serve alcohol.

Mr Inchcup introduced gaming machines to local bars in 1997 and ran a private gambling club from his house on Collector’s Hill — both of which caused controversy, including legal battles, as well as new legislation, the Prohibition of the Importation of Gaming Equipment Act in 1999.

Mr Inchcup also branched out into a different venture — longline fishing for swordfish and tuna, which was a new practice in Bermuda.

John Barnes, a fishing expert, columnist for The Royal Gazette and former director of Agriculture and Fisheries, called it “a different form of fishing, which Bermudian culture doesn’t do — we like to sleep in our own beds, but this meant weeks at sea”.

Mr Inchcup struggled to recruit island fishermen and had to hire a Cuban crew.

His charter vessel, the Jurel, arrived in Bermuda in 1998, and began sales the following year.

Some residents protested that Mr Inchcup was hurting Bermudian businesses.

Joyce DeRosa, the 1974 Miss Bermuda and another close friend and colleague of Mr Inchcup’s, said his business ventures faced constant opposition.

Ms DeRosa said: “It was unfortunate. The Government always seemed to be dead against everything that he did.

“They would give us hope and then destroy it. Governments across the board, from the United Bermuda Party on, have done him wrong.”

Ms DeRosa added the longline fishing business attracted “serious wharfage fees — they were really cold on us”.

She said: “Neil was a self-made man. He had so many firsts in Bermuda but just has not been recognised.

“He didn’t go to college, but he had insights that the average college graduate didn’t have. When it came to maths, he just shone. He didn’t have to use a calculator.”

Ms DeRosa said Mr Inchcup’s laundry thrived off hotel business and caused animosity among the island’s establishment.

She added: “White people felt that he was making too much money. In the end, they bought him out. That must have sparked something in him.”

Mr Inchcup tried another gambling venture with The Niobe Corinthian — a casino ship bought to take patrons offshore for gambling.

Ms DeRosa said Mr Inchcup had “done his homework” and was promised that he would be able to run the business, but the ship was dogged by legal battles after it arrived in 2005.

The Niobe Corinthian was laid up in St David’s by 2007. After rusting for years at Marginal Wharf, it was taken offshore last year and sunk as an artificial reef.

Ms DeRosa said: “Neil was really crushed by that. If he had just had help, he would have been able to make Bermuda a better place.”

Mr Inchcup died last Wednesday. His funeral is scheduled for today at 5pm at Christ Anglican Church in Devonshire.

The MV Niobe Corinthian is officially blessed by Canon James Francis of Christ Church in Devonshire, with Neil Inchcup at hand (File photograph)