The lobbyists of two gambling companies offered the citizens of Central Bohemia Tuchoměřice mountains and mines. They lured them with tens of millions in the municipal budget, promised money from the Qatari sheikhs, and even brought several celebrities, led by Marko Vašut and Jan Koller.
But in vain. In a referendum, local residents rejected both the construction of a large casino near Václav Havel Airport and the operation of a second casino in the POP Airport shopping center.
The company Bonver, which is behind the planned gaming center in the shopping center, is acting regardless of the result of the referendum. As Nauzal found out, its representative, despite the unfavorable result of the vote, submitted an application to the municipal office for a permit to operate a gambling hall. And the municipality is now investigating whether it can reject the request at all. The decree prohibiting gambling has not yet entered into force.
Mayor Pavel Cihlář confirmed to Nauzal that the municipality is dealing with a request for a permit to operate a gaming room in a local shopping center.
“For the last two weeks, we have been trying to figure out how to fulfill the will of the people and not break the law,” the mayor told the editors.
Remember how Tuchoměřice voted on gambling:
Pavel Žák, representative of the Bonver company, also confirmed the submission of the application to the editors. According to him, the referendum is not an obstacle to the opening of their casino, it only prohibits the opening of all other casinos.
“The company Bonver Game, as, obtained a basic permit from the Ministry of Finance and submitted an application to the Tuchoměřice municipal office for a permit to place a gaming area in the POP Airport outlet center. The operation of the casino is not prevented even by the result of the referendum and the associated adoption of the regulatory decree, which will prevent the opening of any other casino in the municipality,” Žák claims.
For clarification – the company Bonver operates a number of casinos across the Czech Republic and has a license for this activity from the Ministry of Finance. In Tuchoměřice, all you need is permission from the local authority to operate a gaming room in a specific building on the territory of the municipality.
The permit is issued by the municipality under the delegated authority of the state administration, so it is a non-political, purely official decision based on the inspection of the supplied documents. The municipality must verify that the company has a basic permit from the Ministry of Finance, that the operation of the gambling hall does not contradict the currently valid municipal ordinance, or that the company has submitted a mandatory deposit.
A five-day gap for the game room for three years
Why does the Bonver company believe that despite the referendum, nothing prevents the opening of the casino?
Tuchoměřice decided in a referendum held on September 15 that gambling will be prohibited in the POP Airport shopping center. 84.5% of voters voted for the ban.
The generally binding decree, which will put the ban into practice, is to be approved by the council at its next meeting, on October 18. According to the law, the decree does not take effect until 15 days after its promulgation, i.e. probably on November 2.
A few days after the referendum, on Wednesday, September 27, Pavel Žák brought a bundle of documents to the municipal office. As it now turns out, it was an application for “permission to locate a play area” at the POP Airport mall.
According to the law, the municipality must decide on this request within thirty days, i.e. by October 27. That means just a few days before the decree goes into effect.
Operators can apply for a permit for a maximum of three years, so according to this logic, a completely new gambling hall could operate in Tuchoměřice for the next three years despite the successful referendum on the ban on gambling.
The Ministry advises: Write a smart decree
Local active citizens, who trampled on the ban on gambling in a campaign and subsequent successful referendum, are now talking about fraud.
“The mayor confirmed to us by phone the possibility that he will probably approve the approval of the request for permission to place the gaming room, because he allegedly cannot do otherwise. Apart from the fact that this would be a fraud on the voters, who clearly expressed themselves against gambling in the referendum, this is not even true. For example, in such complex cases, the municipality can make a decision up to 60 days from the moment the application was submitted, so the council can in the meantime approve the ordinance and then reject the gambling application based on it. It’s just a matter of whether they want to, which we doubt,” says Karel Kreml from the Tuchoměřice anti-gambling initiative.
Central Bohemian governor Petra Pecková also criticizes the gambling company’s legal loophole.
“Citizens of Tuchoměřice unequivocally and with a large majority made it clear in the referendum that crime prevention and complete and healthy families are a priority for them, and not finances from gambling. I believe that the municipality, which has so far behaved fairly during the referendum, will do everything to ensure that the meaning of the referendum cannot be bypassed in such an incredible way for at least three years, no matter how legally it would be,” Pecková told Nauzal.
The municipality is now considering whether to go down the path of a dispute with a large gambling company, or to comply with it. If the municipal authority did not make a decision within 30 days, the company could file a lawsuit for inaction and recover the lost profit that it could have otherwise gained by operating the casino for three years. If the municipality used the extended limit of 60 days, it would have to defend itself that it was a particularly complex case.
The Ministry of Finance stated another possible solution to the Seznam Správ inquiry. According to spokesman Filip Běhal, the transition period between the issuance of the decree and the beginning of its effectiveness can be adjusted in the decree.
“When making a decision on an application, the municipality should primarily base its decision on the legal status that is effective at the time the decision is issued, however, it depends on the exact, specific wording of the relevant decree. This may differ from municipality to municipality and may also contain transitional provisions taking into account, among other things, the processing of applications submitted before the decree in question came into effect,” explains the spokesperson.
The council of Tuchoměřice is now to decide on the specific form of the decree.