Wednesday 22 November 2017

Hall owner gets court backing after gardai seize bingo books

Aoife Finneran and Ralph Riegel

GARDAI attempted to call 'full house' on a €700,000 bingo complex after an escalating wrangle over its gambling operations.

The Rock Bingo Club in Cork, which is operated by Omega Leisure, yesterday secured an interim High Court order after its opening night had to be abandoned following a raid by gardai.

The 1,000-seat complex had been scheduled to host a fundraising event for the Mercy Hospital Foundation (MHF) but this was cancelled after Togher gardai, acting on foot of a warrant, entered the premises and confiscated bingo books.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill granted the owners a temporary order, restraining any interference with the club's future activities.

The company complained to the High Court that Togher-based Supt Charles Barry operated what they termed "a systematic policy" to ensure that gambling did not take place locally.

The court heard that gardai inspected the Rock Bingo Club premises at Deanrock in Togher last Tuesday and then secured a District Court warrant to raid the premises less than an hour before it was scheduled to host its opening gala night.

Bingo books and other materials were seized on the basis of an unlawful lottery and the evening was cancelled.

Constance Cassidy, for the company, said a number of patrons had to be turned away and there was concern that this might happen again. Over 600 people had been expected to attend the opening night.

More than €750,000 had been spent on fitting out the bingo hall in the former Waters Glass complex. It was supposed to open last Tuesday and thereafter run bingo games five nights a week.

Last week, the company initiated proceedings against Supt Barry, the Garda Commissioner and the State. Ms Cassidy said the defendants had been informed of their intention to seek the interim order.

She said her client would now be seeking a court declaration that its activity was lawful.

The company entered into an agreement on October 12 last with the MHF, a charity which raises money for the Mercy University Hospital. This allowed Rock Bingo Club to run bingo games, with the charity entitled to 40pc of the takings.

Licence

Company director James Barber said their business model complied with the Department of Finance's lotteries fund scheme.

He told the court that Supt Barry, during a Cork Circuit Court appeal of a gaming licence application last month, had said that gambling led to an increase in crime, family breakdown and suicide and signalled that he intended to oppose all new gaming establishments in his area.

Supt Barry had objected to lottery-licence applications for a number of charities which were in negotiations with Omega/Rock Bingo, including Cork Penny Dinners, Harlequins Hockey Club and St Augustine's Global Foundation, he said.

Other charities withdrew from negotiations with the company after they had been contacted by Supt Barry, added Mr Barber.

Cork District Court refused Omega/Rock Bingo a licence earlier this year.

A number of groups had objected, including St Finbarr's GAA Club, Ballyphehane Community Association and the SAMA's Wilton complex.

That ruling was then appealed to Cork Circuit Court and with Omega/Rock Bingo was adamant that it then secured a judgment, allowing the company to operate.

Irish Independent

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