Gaming and Betting was originally the responsibility of the Provincial Treasury. All was smooth sailing until the issue of illegal awarding of licences was raised. The result? The Board was axed and a new one ushered in. Then it was off to court to challenge the licences – 22 to be exact – at a preliminary cost to the taxpayer, as at November 2016, of almost R3.5 million. The bulk of these licences were located in communal areas where families shop and spend their limited and hard earned money. Malls such as Galleria, Pavilion, Gateway, Shelly Beach, Brookside, Southway, Balito, Acropolis and The Bay to mention but a few.
In short, Gaming licenses strategically placed to snare the desperate and the compulsive. What followed was an immediate outcry from communities in the province, complaints later formalized at numerous public hearings. Enter the DA who, through the Finance Chair, requested a meeting with KZN Finance MEC, Belinda Scott, to address the uproar. This was followed by an assurance from her that Bingo licences would not be granted in public areas and where they would only entice the struggling, the poor, the desperate and the vulnerable. Then, KZN Premier Willies Mchunu entered the fray and reshuffled things so that the Bill fell under his Department. This while a City Press report at the time alleged that he had been approached by one Percy Shabalala, a bingo operator, to remove the stumbling block to bingo, namely MEC Scott.
What happened next was a strategic shuffle – one which saw the so-called stumbling block exiting the scene and the Premier taking over. Why? Were Treasury and MEC Scott that incompetent? Why the shuffle when the Bill was practically ready for adoption? Was the Premier influenced by Shabalala? What was the real reason behind the shuffle?
Section 47(1) (b) of the KZN Gaming and Betting Bill gives the Premier discretion, in consultation with the executive and the Board, relating to the permissible locations for casinos. Yet Section 62 is silent on the matter when issuing Bingo licences. Is this not the very reason we got into this mess?
Or are we going back on the undertaking given by the Finance MEC, that gambling would not be allowed in community centres? So many unanswered questions. Yet this is precisely what the DA has come to expect as the province suffers under a factional and divided ANC. We remain committed to ensuring that KZN’s most vulnerable communities are not exposed to this scourge.
Francois Rodgers, MPL
DA KZN Spokesperson on Finance