In February this year, the Limpopo Mirror/Zoutpansberger carried the story of what appeared to be an illegal gambling outlet in Songozwi Street, Louis Trichardt. The outlet is one of several in the Vhembe District, masquerading as an Internet café.
Date: 09 March 2019 By: Anton van Zyl
The effectiveness of the Limpopo Gambling Board (LGB) in curbing the scourge of illegal gambling outlets in the province has been questioned. This follows several exposés of illegal gambling outlets in the region, with little or no visible policing. The gambling board, however, opted not to respond to media inquiries requesting specific information about the success of enforcement programmes.
In February this year, the Limpopo Mirror/Zoutpansberger carried the story of what appeared to be an illegal gambling outlet in Songozwi Street, Louis Trichardt. The outlet is one of several in the Vhembe District, masquerading as an Internet café. A journalist visited the shop and witnessed that it was nothing other than an online gambling outlet. The LGB later confirmed that the shop was not properly licensed, and gambling was not permitted on the premises. At the time, the LGB promised to act swiftly and investigate.
Almost a month after the article appeared, the gambling seemingly continues unfettered at the premises in Songozwi Street.
LGB keeps quiet
The head of the LGB’s Law Enforcement Unit, Dr P Masogo, was contacted on several occasions and asked whether any progress had been made with the investigations. He declined to comment.
To try and ascertain what the problem could be with law enforcement, questions were sent to the CEO of the LGB, Mr Makgase Makoko. He was asked about the progress of the investigation in Louis Trichardt. Mr Makoko was also asked if he could provide statistics about investigations conducted by the LGB over the past year and include the success rate in convicting businesses or individuals of contravening the Limpopo Gambling Act. Finally, he was asked what the total of fines or penalties imposed in the past financial year amounted to.
Mr Makoko initially promised to provide information before the end of February. When this date passed, he was again questioned as to when information would be forthcoming.
Early this week, Dr Masogo responded, saying that the matter was under investigation by both the SAPS and the LGB’s Law Enforcement Unit. He said that they were unable to share information as that might jeopardize their investigation. “…if (you) need a formal interview to address some of your questions/concerns, you are welcome to make an appointment for such an interview. This will also assist us to verify your credentials as a journalist,” he responded.
Objections against censorship
When objections were raised with Mr Makoko about the LGB’s apparent intention to “screen” journalists before responding to questions, he dismissed the complaints, stating that “I am not impressed by some of the statements in your email.” Mr Makoko said that the LGB was willing to work with any media house and journalist in the spirit of promoting transparency and accountability. He said that most of the information requested could be found in the annual reports on the LGB’s website.
“I would prefer that you should get additional information and that LG(B) should be able to see the article before it is published,” he said.
Unfortunately, Mr Makoko still did not answer any of the questions raised.
Realising that the LGB was unwilling to supply information, we turned to the 2017/18 Annual Report and the Annual Performance Plan.
What is the Limpopo Gambling Board?
The LGB is the result of legislation and is a body formed to regulate the province’s gambling industry. Its mandate is to ensure compliance with legislation, to promote responsible gambling and to facilitate sustainable local economic development.
The LGB gets most of its money from collecting gambling levies and fees on behalf of the province’s Treasury Department. In the 2017/18 financial year, an amount of R99,06 million was received and R88,94 million was paid over to Treasury.
The money collected comes mainly from a limited number of operators. The three licensed casinos in the province contributed R35,38 million in 2017/18. In the same year, the operators with Limited Pay-out Machines (LPMs) contributed R23,02 million and the bingo levies totalled R3,03 million. The Totalisator outlets paid R4,42 million in levies and the Bookmakers contributed R23,1 million.
A R67,5 million operating grant was received from the Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism.
The financial statements make no mention of any income derived from fines. They do mention a “sundry income” of R450 416, but no indication is given whether or not part of this income has been derived from fines issued.
How is the money spent?
The biggest chunk of the income, namely R33,1 million, goes towards employee-related costs. The board members cost the LGB just under R1,5 million in 2017/18. (Down from R2,82 million the previous year).
In the 2017/18 year, the LGB’s top five officials collectively received R8,75 million in salaries and allowances. This was slightly down from the R9,03 million the previous year, but some vacancies were not filled for part of the year.
The single biggest expense on the operating budget is indicated as the operating lease for the building, which totals R11,35 million.
Unlike the previous year, the auditor-general (AG) was not totally satisfied with the LGB’s financial performance. “Effective steps were not taken to prevent irregular expenditure amounting to R405 706,” the report states. The AG was also concerned about the LGB’s failure to review and monitor compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
At face value, however, the AG seems to be satisfied that the LGB is running a tight ship with its finances under control.
What about law enforcement?
The concern about illegal gambling operators is clearly reflected in the latest annual report.
“…the mushrooming of illegal gambling operations continued to be a scourge, not only in our province but nationally. Our Law Enforcement Unit continued to be a pain in the neck of these illegal operators. However, much more still needs to be done to ensure that the province finally deal with these illegal operators in collaboration with the law enforcement agencies,” writes the CEO, Mr Makoko, in his overview.
In another section of the report, the challenges that the law enforcement unit faces are discussed.
“There are currently more than twenty-five (25) illegal dens offering illegal online gambling activities to the public under the guise of Internet Cafés. The crime has spread to all parts of the Province, including small towns and villages. The Unit, together with SAPS members, is making great strides in the combating of illegal online gambling and has secured a conviction in the Marble Hall area. The accused was sentenced to pay an admission of guilt fine in the Modimolle Regional Court and 26 computers were forfeited to the Board. The Board is investigating the existing illegal dens on a continuous basis, along with the assistance of the SAPS.”
Exactly 360 investigations?
For some strange reason the performance indicators in the annual reports show that the LGB’s law enforcers have done exactly 360 investigations of illegal gambling operations every year since 2013/14. In the 2017/18 column it does indicate that an additional 130 crime-awareness campaigns were conducted.
The report states that, in 2017/18, a total of 20 licenses were issued, 48 inspections were performed, 24 compliance audits were performed, and 18 levy audits were completed.
In the latest available annual performance report, the law enforcement unit has been allocated a budget of R 6.8 million to ensure the eradication of all forms of illegal gambling in the province.
What seems to be the problem?
Seeing that the annual report only mentions one successful conviction during the past year, one may have to search further for answers.
A possibility is that the legislation relied upon is inadequate and allows the perpetrators to get away with their illegal conduct. In the 2017/18 Performance Report, mention is made that “current Regulations and Rules are not in line with the Limpopo Gambling Act No. 3 of 2013. The Regulations are in the process of being amended by LEDET to align with the Act.”
The report further states that, between January and September 2017, eight illegal online gambling shops were investigated, raided and illegal gambling machines and money were confiscated by LGB inspectors and members of the SAPS. “Out of eight investigations, three cases were lost through the North Gauteng High Court, situated in Polokwane, as a result of search-and-seizure warrants being challenged by the defence attorney and set aside.”
The 2016/17 Annual Report of the LGB elaborates on some of the problems the inspectors face:
“Due to the range of Limpopo Province, inspectors are required to cover huge (distances) … Inspectors are working in two teams, one of three-three and the other of two-two (currently there are two groups servicing five districts). The remaining one inspector works alone, conducting workshops, presentations and crime-awareness campaigns within the entire province. Inspectors have limited powers in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, which requires them to be assisted by members of the SAPS most of the time.”
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror for over 27 years. He graduated at the the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.