Casino chief in test case over gaming licence

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The Independent Online

An unusual gamble opens in the High Court today, when Max Kingsley, former managing director of the most successful casino group in Britain, London Clubs International, tries to regain his personal gaming licence.

For the past three years, Mr Kingsley has been out of the game, so far as casino gambling in London is concerned.

Now he has secured a judicial review which will determine whether the decision by the Gaming Board of Great Britain to revoke his coveted "grey" gaming licence should be quashed. The hearing, before Mr Justice Jowitt, has far-reaching implications for the regulation of casino gambling in Britain, which is already undergoing rapid change under the Government's policy of deregulation.

The Gaming Board revoked Mr Kingsley's licence last year, in the aftermath of its previous action against London Clubs, which began with a dawn raid by police on the Ritz Club in Piccadilly and Les Ambassadeurs in Park Lane, in June 1991.

Although the Gaming Board complaints were not published, they covered issues such as the granting of credit, the clearing of cheques and, more significantly for casino operations, the question of funding overseas gamblers' air fares and hotel expenses.

This led to the company being declared "not fit and proper" to hold casino licences, thereby threatening its closure.

The judicial review, however, is not about the verdict of the Gaming Board, which was never tested in court. In the event, London Clubs' casinos were saved by the resignation of Mr Kingsley and his senior colleagues, together with a fundamental restructuring of the company. All the senior management at London Clubs at that time would now need to reapply for gaming licences.

The latest hearing is concerned with whether the Gaming Board exceeded its authority or abused its powers, in revoking Mr Kingsley's personal gaming licence in the manner it did.

Mr Kingsley maintains that when he reapplied, the Gaming Board pre-judged his case by finding against him before he was given a hearing, and that it showed clear bias against him in failing to take proper note of the full evidence. He claims that the loss of his licence for alleged professional misconduct has deprived him of a life-long career in casino management

If he wins, therefore, he might be in a position to sue the Gaming Board, which would set a new precedent in gaming law, though legal experts say that the issue of damages in judicial review cases is very uncertain.

Mr Kingsley, who has never concealed his belief that he was unfairly treated, is a man with the means and the energy to fight a long campaign to clear his name.

On the other hand, if the judicial review finds merely that certain aspects of the evidence were not considered properly, or supports certain technical objections, it would be open to the Gaming Board to reconsider the case in that light. When the Board did this on a previous occasion, it did not change its decision.