Palm Court gaming zone deemed illegal
Principals move to court to bar its closure By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
August 31, 2002

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The principals of Golden Palm Inc, operators of Palm Court Restaurant and Bar, moved to the High Court yesterday in anticipation of a confrontation with government over the establishment of an 'Entertainment Arcade' which the state says is illegal.

In the High Court action, summonses have been issued to Commissioner of Police (ag), Floyd McDonald, and Director of Public Prosecutions, Dennis Hanomansingh, along with the Guyana Office for Investment, the Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), the GRA and the Attorney General. The matter is returnable for September 17.

The Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce yesterday said that the operation was illegal, and that it was taking steps to get the relevant authorities to act against it. At a press conference yesterday Minister Manzoor Nadir said that he had asked Commissioner-General of the GRA, Edgar Heyligar, to investigate how the gaming machines installed at the 35 Main Street, Georgetown premises entered the country.

However, in a sworn affidavit Managing Director of Golden Palm Inc, Meer Rahaman, said he had imported the slot machines and ancillaries, paying the requisite customs duties and taxes under the prescribed tariff headings.

The Ministry of Finance in a press release yesterday said that the installation of gaming machines with the aim of attracting betting activity, had been brought to its attention. The ministry advised that it had not authorised any such activity and hence any operation of that nature would be deemed illegal.

In the affidavit, Rahaman swore that on May 2, 2002, he wrote to Secretary to the Treasury, Neemal Rekha, seeking approval for a licence provided for by the Tax Act, Chapter 80:01. Rahaman swore that another letter was sent in support of Golden Palm Inc's application outlining its earlier proposal for a licence to operate the entertainment. No response was received to the correspondence, he swore.

The plaintiffs are seeking an order directing the Commissioner General of the GRA, through his proper authorised officer, to issue a licence to Golden Palm Inc under the abovementioned act. Further, the plaintiffs are seeking an injunction or order restraining and prohibiting McDonald and Hanomansingh from commencing or initiating any process or proceedings under the provisions of the Prevention of Gambling Act Cap 9:02.

The plaintiffs are also saying that they have a legitimate expectation of being entitled to have the entertainment arcade approved and a licence granted under the Tax Act. They also asked the court to consider any other relief as it sees just along with costs.

Proprietor of Palm Court, Jad Rahaman, yesterday denied that the club was operating a casino. "The premises is an entertainment arcade and not a casino," Rahaman said, while observing that it was no different to horse racing shops, where persons place bets on televised races.

Pointing to similar arcades in sister Caribbean states, especially Barbados where there are rigid laws against casino gambling, he said the move was linked to the promotion of tourism.

Nadir at his press conference, vehemently denied that any permission had been granted for Palm Court to operate such an enterprise. He further declared that the popular entertainment spot was in contravention of current gaming laws. According to the minister, efforts were being made through the relevant authorities to close the operation, as, apart from being illegal, it was unfair to other nightspots which had applied for such permission and had been put on hold.

The ministry, it was further said, was currently examining the gaming laws and policy with a view to making adjustments but no such measure has been taken.

Sources told Stabroek News that the popular city spot had established the gaming section at its Main Street premises recently and patrons were being required to purchase membership to use the machines. The new section, located on the southern half of the lower floor, consists of 20 slot machines, which are operated with tokens, which must be purchased. Up to press time yesterday the arcade was still in operation, with several members playing games. Rahaman in his affidavit said the machines cost US$12,480. The arcade began operating on August 23.