KZN gambling shake-up

2016-09-25 06:03
KZN Premier Willies Mchunu

KZN Premier Willies Mchunu

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Durban - A massive shake-up in KwaZulu-Natal’s gambling industry is looming following plans by Premier Willies Mchunu to remove control of the multibillion-rand gambling industry from finance MEC Belinda Scott.

The move by Mchunu is expected to be announced this week after a meeting was held on Friday where Scott was informed of the decision.

Mchunu’s move was prompted by a drawn-out legal battle between Scott and bingo operators, amid claims of a conflict of interest on the MEC’s part in favour of the casino and horse racing sectors of the industry.

An impeccable provincial government source told City Press that Mchunu “confronted” Scott – whose department’s high court action to challenge the award of bingo licences has dragged on for more than 18 months – on Wednesday in Cabinet.

This concerned claims made in court papers by bingo operator Percy Shabalala that she favoured established gambling companies, including Gold Circle Racing, of which she is a member.

Shabalala, whose Poppy Ice Trading 18 business operates Great Bingo in Ladysmith, was granted additional bingo licences by the province’s Gambling Board in January 2015.

However, Scott went to court to prevent Shabalala and other bingo operators from using the licences.

The office of then premier Senzo Mchunu was backing her, but it subsequently withdrew from the case. The premier’s legal team wrote to Scott, suggesting that she drop the case.

Last month, Shabalala wrote to current premier Mchunu asking for his intervention and to consider removing the gambling responsibilities from Scott’s portfolio or shift her from this ministry. The premier promised to investigate the allegations.

“The premier confronted the MEC about the articles and the allegations in court of a conflict of interest at Cabinet on Wednesday. It was already clear from what he said that either she was going or he would take control of gambling,” said a provincial government official, who cannot be named as he is not mandated to talk to the media.

“On Friday they informed the MEC about the decision. The premier wanted to keep it quiet until there is an announcement this week.”

A second senior provincial government source told City Press that a “handover process” would take place following Mchunu’s decision. “The premier has tried to manage the situation, but has now decided on moving gambling to his portfolio,” the source said.

Mchunu’s spokesperson, Ndabe Sibiya, refused to confirm or deny the move, saying the premier was holding talks with the industry and other players in the gambling sector. “The premier will issue a comprehensive statement once all processes have been finalised,” he said.

Sibiya also refused to be drawn on questions about how the move would affect the Gambling Board.

In court papers Shabalala had also claimed that two board members appointed by Scott – former finance MEC Peter Miller and Advocate Nigel Hollis SC – had links with Gold Circle. Both had resigned from Gold Circle when they joined the board, but Shabalala has argued that neither should have been appointed.

Scott’s spokesperson, Sibonelo Msomi, was unable to comment at the time of writing.

Shabalala declined to comment.


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