Gambling board renews Sun’s casino licence - Monday 23rd of March 2009

THE Eastern Cape Gambling & Betting Board has rejected objections by the amaMpondo monarchy against the renewal of global hotel group Sun International’s casino licence for the Wild Coast Sun.

The board yesterday approved Sun International’s licence, which expires in August.

A report on the reasons for the board’s decision will now be forwarded to Finance MEC Phumulo Masualle, who may establish a gambling tribunal to hear further objections.

The decision is likely to continue the royal showdown between King Mpondombini Sigcau and the board over the validity of a lease signed between Sun International and the former Transkei homeland government almost 30 years ago.

The royal household’s spokesperson, Gordon Ball, who is related to the king, yesterday said their lawyers are now trying to obtain a copy of the board’s report. “We will then decide the way forward,” he said.

Announcing their decision, board chairperson Keely Canca said following the public hearing in Mbizana last August, the board had a closed meeting with the hotel group.

Sun International had met the minimum requirements but the board also imposed stringent conditions on the group to ensure it complied with its commitments. She would not elaborate on what these conditions were.

Board acting chief executive Menzi Mbina said the report contained confidential information.

Mbina, however, said the king’s objections had been taken into consideration.

“But it was not such as to prevent the licence. We sought an audience with the king but he was not available.”

Mbina said the board met all its requirement in terms of the Gambling Act.

Ball acknowledged that the king has received a letter from the board in which it mentioned conditions imposed on Sun International. “We would like to see those conditions.”

King Sigcau has accused Sun International of excluding the royal family and amaMpondo nation in its application. He described the hotel group’s own black economic empowerment (BEE) partner as “insignificant”.

He also accused the gambling group of never paying an amount of R30 000 into the Quakeni Trust for the amaMpondo nation.

Sun International General manager Alex McMath, who earlier called on the board to disregard the king’s objections, was yesterday accompanied by Lindiwe Mhlanga of the Wild Coast Sun Mbizana Development Trust.

The casino deal was first signed on March 9, 1979, between Sun International and the then-homeland government of George Matanzima.

According to a notarial deed at the time, Sun International obtained the land in a R30 000-a-year lease from the Transkei government and Mzamba Development for 50 years.

The deal was mired in controversy over alleged bribes paid by hotel mogul Sol Kerzner to get exclusive gambling rights in the homeland.

The deed was renewed in October 1992 with the option of another 50- year period.

In June 2004, Sun International’s board agreed that all shareholding from the amaMpondo nation should be channelled into a company called the Mbizana Community Company – owned by a trust. Sigcau has, however, denied any involvement with the Mbizana Development Trust. - By EDDIE BOTHA, Investigations Editor

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