Policy rift sets in between Castille and BOV chairman
Senglea council objects to betting shop
THE Senglea Local Council objects to the development of a betting outlet in a residential area just a short distance away from the locality’s church.
26 March 2012, 12:00am
When consulted by The Malta Environment and Planning Authority, the Lotteries and Gaming Authority had no objections to the proposed betting shop. The Mepa case officer also recommended the application for approval as it conforms to local plan policies.
But in a meeting held last week, the Mepa board expressed its concern on the opening of a gaming outlet in an area where there is "a predominance of residential buildings".
A final decision is expected during a board hearing on 17 April.
While the local council is basing its objections strictly on planning policies regulating development in Urban Conservation Areas, residents who talked to this newspaper have expressed concern on the social impact of opening a betting outlet in the heart of the locality.
"This proposed site is only short distance away from the local church. All the local children will be passing this building on a regular basis to either to go to their school or church," a concerned resident told MaltaToday.
Residents also expressed concern that the presence of the betting outlet will encourage gaming, and thus increase social problems in the locality.
In its objection, the local council referred to planning policies which state that that businesses run within scheduled/historic properties should not have "unsociable opening hours" or possess "any other factor which would constitute bad neighbourliness or disturb the character of the historic area".
"We think we one can easily argue that a gambling shop does not fit with the very sensible requirements laid out in this policy".
According to LGA regulations issued last year, gaming halls cannot be licensed if they are within 75 meters of places of worship, schools and playgrounds.
Residents contend that the proposed gaming hall will be located 70 metres away from the church and would therefore be in breach of these regulations.
When contacted, a spokesperson for the Lotteries and Gaming Authority said that its 'no objection' letter was issued because 'prima facie' the premises did not seem to be in breach of the gaming regulations and directives.
Nevertheless, this does not automatically imply that the premises will be finally granted a gaming licence as "an on-site survey" still has to be performed.
Even if a Mepa permit is issued a formal application still needs to be lodged with the Lotteries and Gaming Authority for a permit which can only be issued if the establishment complies with regulations.
The public will also have the opportunity to lodge an objection with the LGA during the application processing period.
The gaming saga
Gaming halls flourished all over Malta between 2006 and 2009, prompting the concern of social workers.
Speaking to MaltaToday in December 2007, former chief executive officer of the Foundation for Social Welfare Joe Gerada condemned the opening of a gaming hall in Marsa opposite the
Even a house previously belonging to St George Preca was transformed in to a gaming parlour.
But although boasting a Mepa permit, these outlets existed in a legal limbo, as draft regulations regulating this development were never approved by government.
It was only in December 2009 that the authorities clamped down on gaming shops. Two years later, the government issued strict regulations to protect minors and other vulnerable people.
The regulations include limitations on the maximum bet, the maximum prize and a return to player of at least 85%.
Betting shops cannot serve food and drink, and can only open between 11am and 11pm.
Gaming halls cannot be licensed if they are within 75 metres of places of worship, schools and playgrounds.
An applicant has to obtain a 'no objection certificate' from the Lotteries and Gaming Authority, prior to submitting an application with Mepa.
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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