Premier Willies Mchunu to shake up KwaZulu-Natal province’s gambling industry

Premier Willies Mchunu plant to remove finance MEC Belinda Scott’s control of the multibillion-rand gambling industry in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa.- A huge shake-up in the province of  KwaZulu-Natal’s gambling industry is looming, following Premier Willies Mchunu’s plan to remove control of the multibillion-rand gambling industry from finance MEC Belinda Scott. The decision by Mchunu is expected to be announced this week after a meeting held on Friday where Scott was informed of the decision.

A drawn-out legal battle between Scott and bingo operators, amid claims of a conflict of interest on the MEC’s part in favour of the casino and horse racing sectors of the industry prompted Mchunu’s move. It has transpired that Mchunu confronted Scott, whose department’s high court action to challenge the award of bingo licenses has dragged on for more than 18 months, on Wednesday in Cabinet.

Bingo operator Percy Shabalala claims that Scott favoured established gambling companies, including Gold Circle Racing, of which she is a member. Shabalala, whose Poppy Ice Trading 18 business operates Great Bingo in Ladysmith, was granted additional bingo licenses by the province’s Gambling Board in January 2015. However, Scott went to court to prevent Shabalala and other bingo operators from using the licenses.

The office of then premier Senzo Mchunu was backing her, but it eventually withdrew from the case. The premier’s legal team wrote to Scott, suggesting that she drop the case. Then last month, Shabalala wrote to current premier Mchunu asking for his intervention and suggesting to consider removing the gambling responsibilities from Scott’s portfolio or shift her from this ministry. The premier promised to investigate the allegations.

“The premier confronted the MEC about the articles and the allegations in court of a conflict of interest at Cabinet on Wednesday. It was already clear from what he said that either she was going or he would take control of gambling,” said a provincial government official, who cannot reveal his name. “On Friday they informed the MEC about the decision. The premier wanted to keep it quiet until there is an announcement this week.”