Stakes high in rights row

BONE OF CONTENTION: Construction of a bingo hall is under way along Union Avenue in Uitenhage Picture: TREMAINE VAN AARDT
BONE OF CONTENTION: Construction of a bingo hall is under way along Union Avenue in Uitenhage Picture: TREMAINE VAN AARDT

bingoThe Bay’s biggest gambling establishment and the province’s gambling authority are at loggerheads as the board continues to authorise new gambling houses while Sun International fights for exclusivity.

On January 9, construction vehicles began levelling a patch of vacant land along Union Avenue in Uitenhage.

A few days later, phase one construction begun on the 15th and final bingo hall in the province.

A few days later, phase one construction begun on the 15th and final bingo hall in the province.

This follows an initiative launched in 2013 by the Eastern Cape Gambling and Betting Board (ECGBB) calling for expressions of interest from parties to operate 15 bingo halls for 15 years in the province.

ECGBB spokeswoman Pumeza George said the establishment of the 15 bingo halls in the province aimed to stimulate the local economy, create sustainable jobs and grow the tourism industry.

“To date 14 out of the 15 bingo licences are operational in the province. The Uitenhage bingo licence will be the 15th,” George said.

She failed to respond to questions on who would operate the new establishment.

However, on February 1 a job advertisement was placed in The Herald calling for a branch manager to supervise the Uitenhage branch of Galaxy Bingo.

In 2014, the ECGBB sanctioned electronic bingo terminals (EBTs) to be made available to interested parties. Galaxy Bingo, in the Moffett on Main complex, and Bingo Royale, in Cleary Park, then opened the same year.

However, just two years after the establishment of the two bingo houses, Sun International subsidiary Emfuleni Resorts filed an application in the Grahamstown High Court to have the 2014 decision – to permit EBT’s – by the board set aside.

Sun International corporate brand and communications general manager Michael Farr argued that the two bingo halls were operating in an area where the Boardwalk had gambling exclusivity rights.

He had previously said the Boardwalk’s gambling licence was renewed for 15 years in 2010 after the casino’s owners agreed to invest R1-billion in upgrading the complex on the understanding that no other licences would be issued in its catchment area.

Farr said the bingo halls were “operating as mini casinos” and had a material impact on the Boardwalk’s casino revenue.

Farr said he was unable to elaborate on the matter as it was ongoing, but he confirmed that the establishment of the Uitenhage bingo hall would form part of the company’s litigation.

“The Boardwalk’s application to the high court to review the ECGBB’s decision to award bingo licences for the operation of two EBT outlets within the Boardwalk’s catchment area in Port Elizabeth has been launched,” Farr said.

“The parties are exchanging [court] papers. The Boardwalk is further considering its position following receipt of the news that the Uitenhage EBT operation will go ahead and be opened.”

George said: “The board is preparing its answering affidavits in response to Emfuleni Resorts’ challenge.

“Until such time as the ECGBB’s answering affidavit has been filed, we are advised against discussing the ECGBB’s response to the legal challenge in the media.”

In 2014, Ward 51 councillor Pieter Terblanche became the driving force behind a petition by more than 600 Uitenhage residents strongly opposed to the construction of a bingo hall in the town.

Asked whether the sentiment remained the same he said: “It is my understanding that the construction is a 1 000m² bingo house, but I don’t want to comment further as that ward is run by councillor Tyron Adams.”

Adams said aside from a complaint from the principal of the nearby Albertyn Primary School regarding the proximity of the new construction to the school, he had not received any other complaints.

Galaxy Bingo declined to comment.

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