Monday, October 25, 2021

Gambling Regulations impractical, contravene Gambling Act

It would be possible for the Gambling Authority to explain away why it adopted some of the 48 “issues of concern” that the Gambling Association of Botswana raises through the agency of Grand Palm and Avani Gaborone Sun casinos. However, doing so with some issues will be extremely difficult and may cast doubt upon the integrity of the whole process of developing the regulations. In a spirited pushback against the new Gambling Regulations, GAB has asserted that these regulations contravene the law, go against industry standards and represent regulatory overreach by the Authority.

According to the Gambling Act, the legally acceptable age for gambling is 21 years but the regulations put it at 18. This point of concern is advanced by both Grand Palm and Avani. In terms of the Section 22 of the Regulations, a licensee who permanently removes from use or replaces approved chips or tokens at the licensee’s casino, or who ceases to operate a casino shall prepare a plan for redeeming discontinued chips and tokens that remain outstanding at the time of the discontinuation. That is to be done by way of publishing a notice for the discontinuance and redemption of the chips and tokens and the locations of the redemption in at least two newspapers circulating in Botswana at least twice during each week of the redemption period. The concern that Grand Palm raises is that the publication of adverts is too costly “and may possibly conflict with the Banking Act on currency adverts.” Section 29 of the latter Act says that “Any person who counterfeits, forges, or, without the permission of the Bank, photocopies or otherwise reproduces any note issued by the Bank shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine of not less than P100 000 but not more than P1 000 000 and to imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years, but not more than 14 years.” The Regulations require transactions exceeding P25 000 to be reported. Avani points out that conversely, the Financial Intelligence Authority requires transactions of P10 000 to be reported and wants the GA to “clarify this incongruence.” 

The Association and the Authority have also not been able to establish common ground on the period of time that casinos can retain surveillance recordings. The Regulations says that a licensee shall retain recordings of surveillance systems for a period of at least 30 days from the date of the recordings. On the other hand, Avani points out that in terms of industry standards, recordings for casino slots and tables are retained for seven days, those for cage/cash desk are retained for 14 days and those for the safe for 21 days. Beginning this month, casinos are required to get approval of the gambling chips or tokens to be used in their respective establishments. The process begins with the casinos submitting chip/token artwork (“an exact drawing, in colour, of each side and the edge of the proposed chip or token, drawn to actual size or drawn to larger than actual size and in scale, and showing the measurements of the proposed chip or token in each dimension”); the names and addresses of the manufacturer of the proposed chips or tokens; and the licensee’s intended use of the chips or tokens. Upon approval of such designs, the Authority will invite the applicants to submit a sample of the proposed chips or tokens in final, manufactured form. Grand Palm points out that “suppliers do not send sample chips, they send artwork only.”

Since 1972 when the first casino in Botswana opened, operators have been deciding themselves what the maximum and minimum stakes should be. On the other hand, the regulations transfer such decision-making powers to the Authority. Grand Palm views this as interference “as it would indicate the direct involvement or otherwise of the Gambling Authority as a regulator in the running of the business.”

Section 30(7) gives the Authority power to disable any gambling machine through the monitoring system if it does not comply with its requirements. In the judgement of Grand Palm however, that could be problematic because for the Authority to be able to do that, “it will have to have direct access to the licensee’s online gaming management system and not only the ability to access reports.”

The regulations are a result of a process that began at the turn of the century when the Ministry of Trade and Industry engaged Deloitte & Touche consultants to review the gambling laws. Following the publication of the report, stakeholders in the industry began an engagement process which included a workshop in 2000. The main concern that GAB has raised is that its members were not consulted when the regulations were drawn up.

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