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Paradise Games retains betting licence

Paradise Games on Court Street (File photograph)

Paradise Games betting shop retained its licence yesterday but its lawyer, Eugene Johnston, was threatened with getting held in contempt of court.

The decision by the three-member Betting Licence Authority to renew the licence was not unanimous, according to its chairman, Juan Wolffe, who chastised the shop’s management for a late application.

The senior magistrate also told the hearing, on the day the shop’s licence expired, that the behaviour of the applicants’ counsel had been “atrocious”.

Mr Wolffe said the lawyer had “bordered on being contemptuous of this court”, adding that the authority “came very close to taking this matter further”.

He warned: “Be mindful of your animated behaviour — it sometimes comes across as being disrespectful to the court.”

Five months ago, Mr Johnston went public about spending a year without work in the wake of censure from the Court of Appeal.

In November 2017, he was accused by the court of “unreasonable and improper” conduct in an appeal on behalf of Ayo Kimathi, a firebrand American speaker banned from entering the country after a controversial public address in September 2015.

Yesterday, Mr Johnston clashed with the betting authority over its powers to revoke a certificate or make demands of applicants, saying those “fall to the minister, not the authority”.

Paradise Games on Court Street, which is owned by Marc Bean, the former leader of the Progressive Labour Party, was ordered at a hearing on Friday to bring approval from the Ministry of Finance, along with a detailed report on its business operations, and a second guarantor backing its business reputation.

Mr Johnston had argued previously that the petition was a renewal rather than a first application, and thus did not require extra.

Yesterday, he produced a certificate from the ministry that was the same as one issued in May 2013.

Wayne Furbert was acting minister in the stead of Curtis Dickinson, and Mr Johnston told the authority that “the minister agreed with our position that once a certificate is granted with a renewal, they do not issue a further certificate”.

Mr Wolffe queried how the same certificate could be used “ad infinitum” without the ministry doing its due diligence.

He said the ministry had signed a document from 2013 without investigating, and could not have affirmed the reputation and stability of Paradise Games over a weekend.

Mr Johnston produced a second guarantee attesting to the soundness of Paradise Games but said that, under the law, they did not have the right to “look behind it”.

The chairman said: “I think you’re wrong and, with all respect, the minister is wrong”.

He said: “The narrative is that this authority was not regulating betting shops. The point being made is that is not our function. It’s the function of the ministry.”

He added: “We want to dispel the myth that money laundering is rife within betting shops, and what is the authority doing — again, it’s not our function to do that; it’s a function of the Ministry of Finance.”

Mr Wolffe also pointed out that the shop’s business had changed over the years since 2013, including dropping the Florida Lottery Powerball.

“You have this notion that we have done this before. Accept what we’re saying and let’s move on.”

Elizabeth Christopher, who sits on the authority with Peter Barrett, said the authority wanted businesses to “apply their minds on an annual basis as to what activities are conducted in their shops”.

She added: “Otherwise they are not taking it seriously.”

Mr Johnston maintained that concerns over money laundering rested with the ministry, adding: “You might feel it necessary for your powers to be exercised, but they are not.”

In the meantime, Paradise Games had been forced to “go back and forth”, he said.

Mr Wolffe said: “For your client to have the temerity to question going back and forth when it is they who submitted their application late, is quite rich.”

Ms Christopher accused Mr Johnston of “playing to the gallery”, and the chairman said his conduct “could very much dictate whether your client operates as of today”.

The authority ultimately approved the shop’s licence, but only by a majority decision, Mr Wolffe said.

“Any person who comes before these courts must be mindful of their conduct,” he said, adding that Mr Johnston “came very close to bringing these proceedings into disrepute, and particularly his work as a lawyer”.

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