The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission responds
In response to my column of Sunday, June 29 headlined 'How could the BGLC not see this coming?' I made contact with the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) to get a fuller picture of what was happening after my article indicated that it appeared that the BGLC was open to offering the newest player on the block, Goodwill Gaming Enterprise Limited, a free pass on the normal due diligence exercises that the commission would be expected to uphold.
I made telephone contact with the executive director of the BGLC and e-mailed him a set of questions which I believed would settle the matter as to whether or not Goodwill was being given a free pass. The executive director and I also had a few telephone conversations in which he expressed more than disquiet that his reputation was being tarnished and the suspicion that there were certain unnamed players in the socio-business landscape who had a vested interest in doing so.
In essence, two distinct things happened. The first is, one person who was named as director of Goodwill but who was apparently excised because of certain problems with the Financial Services Commission called me on the telephone. He said hello and I responded likewise and before we both knew it, the telephone conversation was at an end. Why did he call me?
The more important part of the exercise was the contact I made with Jack Shirley, executive director of the BGLC. He insisted that he was open to all questions and I utilised the opportunity to ask him those questions which I believed would attempt to bring clarity to the matter.
One troubling matter which arose when I wrote the article surrounded the question as to him making a trip abroad which some saw as him taking part in a 'junket'. My question to him was whether this trip was approved by the relevant governmental agencies. I saw documented evidence which indicated that the trip was approved by both the financial and cabinet secretaries.
Another important question was whether he or any other senior member of the BGLC was aware of the court case in Aruba which involved Goodwill Gaming. He answered, 'Yes.'
I made an error in suggesting to him that prior to the licence being offered to Supreme Ventures there was a 'public hearing' instead of a public notice or intent to issue a licence. Because of this I asked him why was there no such similar situation with Goodwill. He stated, "A public hearing is not an international standard or practice for the conduct of granting a lottery licence."
When I asked the question: "In light of the questionable information easily available on two of the directors of Goodwill that clearly disqualify them as fit and proper, what does the BGLC plan to do?" he answered, "We have no documentary evidence to disqualify any licensee's directors."
He stated the following: "The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act stipulates the process in the granting of licences and is not influenced by third parties as a precedence. As the public authority the commission must ensure that the decisions it takes in respect of its licences are not capricious, unreasonable or disproportionate and, among other things, can objectively justify a different stance if there are peculiar circumstances which existed at that time."
According to Mr Shirley, for those who believe that something is questionable in the present instance, ...then I do believe that the appropriate course of action is to lodge a complaint to the OCG for the appropriate remedy and I would welcome it."
He said, "The commission has followed scrupulously its guidelines in granting licences for the conduct of lottery games after the conduct of background checks according to international standards. To date three private licences have been granted and neither of the applicants was subject to a public hearing as no such requirement is stipulated or recommended by the BGLA."
In investigations made, one international firm specialising in due diligence checks on potential operators of lottery licences said: "Where operation of a state lottery is franchised to a private operator, rather than a State-owned operator, the UK provides a good example of the fact that a thorough due diligence process is conducted both before and on a regular basis after the licence is awarded. This should be the practice of any responsible regulator.
"Where private lotteries are permitted in jurisdictions with established licensing and regulatory regimes in place, a thorough due diligence process is involved (again, both before and after a licence is granted), although there is no consistency whether:
* notice of the licence application is given to the public and/or
* opportunity is given to the public to object and/or
* hearings are held (whether in private or in public.)"
My contact with the executive director of the BGLC has opened up the door for those who believe that an unfair advantage was being given to Goodwill to make their case either to the OCG or indeed to the very BGLC.
It also ensures that the potential new operators on the block, Goodwill Gaming Enterprises, will be subject to the same public 'openness' as happened with the biggest player on the gaming landscape, Supreme Ventures Limited.
The new openness forces both the BGLC and potential players and competitors to bring their cases forward before the court of public opinion and judgement.
Lastly, when I posed the question to Mr Shirley as to whether the directors of the BGLC were subject to the same due diligence (at the time of their appointment) as would be applied to new lottery players on the block, he replied, "On engagement, all employees' and directors' names are submitted to the Revenue Protection Division (RPD) of the Ministry of Finance for background checks to be conducted as a matter of course."
I expect that the matter regarding Goodwill will take on an openness even moreso than before. Plus, the executive director has said that those who have grouses have the option of making their cases to the OCG.