“I would like to know who approved this (betting outlets) in the first place,” reads one comment in response to a People’s Post article shared to the Wynberg Residents and Ratepayers Association’s (WRRA) Facebook group.
The short answer is the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board (WCGRB).
The longer one entails a lengthy application process in which residents, places of worship and educational institutions have but a small window of opportunity to raise their objections.
According to the WCGRB’s document “Guidelines for lodging objections to application advertised in the media”, the board’s chief executive officer requires applicants wanting to open a betting outlet to advertise the application in the Government Gazette, an English publication, an Afrikaans publication and a local publication in the area where the intended licensed gambling activity will be situated.
From the moment that these adverts appear, members of the public and interested parties have 21 days in which to lodge comments and objections with the WCGRB.
“The board follows an extensive public participation process that allows the public and interested parties to submit comments and objections to the board. In terms of due process, applicants get an opportunity to respond to any comments or objections impacting their application,” says Yvonne Skepu, manager: legal services, WCGRB.
In “warranting circumstances”, Skepu says, the board will convene a public hearing to allow members of the public to make submissions in a public forum. According to the “guidelines”, these circumstances include when “an overwhelming number of substantive objections were received from members of the community”.
Section 35 of the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Act requires the WCGRB to have special regard to inter alia the social, religious, educational and land-use aspects of the surrounding geographical environment when considering an application for a gambling premises license. As such, applicants are required to obtain written comments or inputs from places of worship and educational institutions situated within a 100 m radius of the proposed premises.
Comments from these institutions, motivating how the licensing of the gambling premises will impact their proceedings or the learners, must be submitted as part of the application process. Applicants are required to notify these institutions in writing of their intentions. Should these institutions fail to respond within 30 days from the date of receipt of applicants’ notification, the WCGRB deems these institutions not to have any objections to the proposed gambling activity.
Skepu says while the board has regard for the schools and churches in close vicinity to the proposed premises, there is no outright ban or denial of an application made for premises that are close to a church or school. She goes on to explain that gambling is offered as a legalised commercial venture.
“The board must, therefore, balance the opposing rights, where applicable, of the applicant and the rights of those opposing the granting of an application,” she says, adding that the WCGRB will only uphold “substantive objections”.
Examples of accepted grounds for objection include “whether the applicant has a criminal history involving dishonesty; whether the granting of the licence is undesirable in light of the social, cultural or land-use aspects of the surrounding neighbourhood; whether the applicant business is going to interfere with a place of worship or educational institution; and whether it gives easy access to underage children”.
In other words, objections must be premises- or person-specific. When it comes to the latter, Skepu says, as part of the licence application process, probities are conducted where the board has regard to a natural person’s prior conduct and criminal history.
“Such reports are also used to determine whether any statutory disqualifications disqualify a person from holding a gambling licence,” she adds.
Moral objections, for example, any individual or religious institutions’ opposition to or dislike of gambling, carry little water with the WCGRB.
And once the WCGRB has approved an application, the board’s decision is final.
“Interested parties cannot engage the board with a view to changing its decision as it has exercised its office,” the guidelines read.
“Depending on whether or not the conduct complained of contravenes the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Act, or the National Gambling Act, the board will follow the relevant administrative processes and conduct an investigation and in warranting circumstances, summon the person(s) to a hearing to enquire into the veracity of the allegations,” she adds.
Should it be found that there was a breach of any gambling legislation prescripts, the board may still revoke such person or entity’s licence and/or issue an administrative penalty.
“We confirm that even where a licence has been granted, the matter must be reported to the board and other law enforcement agencies charged with investigating and prosecuting such conduct,” concludes Skepu.