Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Gaborone Hotel casino will not be moving to i-Towers

Despite a fiercely-fought court battle and with millions of pula having been spent along the way, the Gaborone Hotel casino will still not be moving to the i-Towers building in the new CBD.

The battle ended as the recent session of the Court of Appeal handed down a judgement that overturned one in which the High Court had favoured Gaborone Hotel casino – which trades as Moonlite Casino. In its last day of statutory existence, the Casino Control Board (renamed the Gambling Authority), had held off on a decision on an application by Moonlite Casino, the gambling arm of Gaborone Hotel, to move to i-Towers in the new CBD. The casino appealed to the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Vincent Seretse. However, the latter wouldn’t give the casino representatives audience on the reasoning that a decision had not been taken. Instead he referred the matter back to the Authority. The High Court itself took the view that the “refusal of the Board to make a decision” was “essentially a rejection” of Moonlite’s application.

The court had the option of referring the matter back to the minister but determined that it was unlikely that the former would consider the matter with an open mind and give genuine consideration to the appeal before him if the matter was remitted back to him. The judgement essentially cleared the way for Moonlite Casino, which is collocated within Gaborone Hotel itself, to move into the south tower of i-Towers. The casino had reserved space at i-Towers and beginning July 1, 2016, had been paying rent of P201 670 a month. A letter from CitySkapes, the company that owns i-Towers, notified the Managing Director of Moonlite Casino, Bipin Awasthi, that while his company didn’t have a licence to trade, “your obligation to pay rental remains whilst you resolve your licensing issues.”

Dissatisfied with this outcome, the Gambling Authority appealed the judgement and has just come out of the CoA smelling of roses. A three-member panel made up of Justices Lord Abernethy, Abednico Tafa and Isaac Lesetedi concluded that the Casino Control Board had not reached any decision that Moonlite could appeal because its application had not been finalized.

“Paradoxically, Moonlite Casino … seemed to conflate the non-finalisation with a rejection,” reads a judgement written by Lesetedi.

One contentious issue was with regard to the submission of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to the Board. The judgement says with regard to the latter: “Moonlite Casino misunderstood this to be an environmental assessment only of its portion of the building. This was a clear misunderstanding of what the Board sought, as the Board was not seeking the EIA of the individual occupants of the building but the EIA of the building.”

A hop and a skip down the road from the i-Towers is Masa Square which has been trying to open a casino of its own. Currently, this effort is being spearheaded by a company called Three Partners Resorts. The latter is opposed to Moonlite Casino relocating to the CBD. The Board’s chairperson (and chairperson of a meeting that considered Moonlite’s application) was Thabiso Tafila, a senior partner at Minchin & Kelly Attorneys, a Gaborone law firm that also happens to represent Three Partners Resorts. While Tafila did declare his interests as the rules demand, he further told the meeting that if he recused himself, the quorum would be lost and a resolution not made on Moonlite’s application. In the end, both parties agreed that Tafila could chair the meeting. In its appeal papers Moonlite contended that Tafila should never have chaired that meeting. The CoA judgement says that Tafila did nothing wrong and that Moonlite waived its right to object when it agreed that the meeting should go on.

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