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Betting shops defend their reputations

Betting shop owners were grilled by the licensing authority as the watchdog asked for proof of the stability and reputation of their companies from the Ministry of Finance.

The Betting Licensing Authority heard on Monday that a would-be criminal would “have to be extremely stupid” to attempt to launder illegal cash through betting businesses.

Bookmakers said Bermuda's betting community was small and familiar to them.

Juan Wolffe, the senior magistrate and chairman of the Betting Licensing Authority, said the group hoped to see “a certificate from the minister as to the business reputation and financial stability” of applicants seeking to renew their licences.

Mr Wolffe said at a hearing last week it was up to the ministry to ensure that licensed premises were not breaking the law.

One company, Triple Crown, said they were advised they would have a letter from the minister “in a couple of days”.

Albert Steede, the owner of Seahorses and Gametime, said he expected to have the background check in time for the authority's next sitting on Monday.

In a special report last year, The Royal Gazette revealed that not all operators in the local betting industry had gone through checks.

Mr Wolffe said yesterday that the authority needed evidence of due diligence or its approval would “simply be a rubber stamp”.

He added: “There has been absolutely no indication from the ministry as to what they actually do to give us this certificate.”

He added: “Not that they are obliged to do so under the law, but it would be nice to see that — particularly as the minister is concerned about an anti-money laundering guarantee.”

Mr Steede explained to the authority that all his betting ran under fixed odds.

He said: “No one goes in there blind. They know how much they can potentially win — it's there for them to see.”

Mr Steede added that most clients were known to his staff and betting receipts were numbered, while bets were tallied with shop records and security footage.

He said his businesses also worked with the police financial crime unit.

Mr Steede added there was “a misconception that people can come in with crazy amounts of cash”.

He said: “We have a maximum of $2,000 per bet.”

Mr Wolffe told him: “The narrative being used is that money laundering is rife in betting shops.”

Mr Steede told the court: “It kind of hurts me, to tell you the truth, because I work hard to make sure that things like that don't happen.”

Peter Barrett, one of the authority's members, said: “Somebody who has made cash illegally usually has a lot to wash.

“They will lose at least half if it can make the other half legit.

Mr Barrett added that betting shops had the odds in their favour.

He said: “If I am a money-launderer, I am going to come up with other ways to take a very large pot of cash, far in excess of $2,000, and figure out how to make it look legitimate.”

Andrea Joseph, who manages Triple Crown Racing, said her establishment limited payouts to a maximum of $15,000 on a single bet.

She added the fixed odds were based on overseas horse races.

Ms Joseph said she handled all the transactions, with stakes on average about $50 each.

She added: “The most I would take would be probably $200 on a single bet. I would not go over $200.”

Ms Joseph told the authority that she knew all of her customers and many had used the shop for a long time.

She said an attempt by an unfamiliar client to place a bet of $500 would “raise suspicions”.

She added: “I would not take it.”

Mr Wolffe adjourned the hearing until Monday.

Government revenue: betting shops paid $1.7 million in tax in the financial year 2015-16

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Published March 21, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated March 21, 2019 at 10:10 am)

Betting shops defend their reputations

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