x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Hotel slot machines 'had prior approval'

Twenty three people go on trial accused of operating illegal slot machines in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Defence lawyers for 23 people accused of operating illegal slot machines told a court yesterday that the machines had been approved by four different authorities. The employees went before the Criminal Court of Appeal, accused of operating and maintaining gambling machines at hotels across the capital.

The public prosecution say all are guilty of gambling. The defence claim that the 21 accused men - including four Emiratis, five Indians, two Filipinos and others of Arab nationalities - and two Filipinas did nothing wrong. "Every single one of these men and women standing before you, your honour, are innocent," a defence lawyer, Saoud Abdul Aziz, told the court. "They are employees, janitors and handlers. Where is the evidence that any of them were gambling? Where is it?"

He said the machines, in hotels owned by 12 different companies, had been licensed by four separate authorities: Abu Dhabi Municipality, the Chamber of Commerce, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the police. "These machines were brought into the country and approved upon entry as gaming devices," he said. As gambling for money is illegal, customers would pay to play the games and would receive food and drink coupons if they won, the court heard.

Prizes also included mobile phones but never money. Mr Aziz compared the scheme to the toy machines in which electronic claws try to pick up prizes, which are widely used in malls. "I can put 10 coins into the machine and only win in the last coin," he said. "Is that gambling? Does that mean our children have been gambling? My clients operated machines no different than those." The companies were operating in the Regency, Dana, Howard Johnson and Arcadia hotels, the court heard.

None of the company owners has been charged. "Four times every year Abu Dhabi Police would inspect the establishment to see if they are operating within the laws and every time the police had no objection to their existence," Mr Aziz said. "If we want to enforce no gambling in Abu Dhabi, then bring to justice the people who were gambling, not the employees. "We cannot allow these companies to operate, give them the permits to operate and tax them 16 per cent, as the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority was taxing them, and then punish their employees all of a sudden."

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said in a statement: "Licences for gaming machines are processed by two authorities - Abu Dhabi Police and the Department of Economy and Planning. "The licences are for gaming machines, not gambling machines. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority has no remit in the licensing of these machines. "The six per cent tax levied by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority refers to the legal responsibility to enact a six per cent tourism tax on the profit of all hotel activities."

The 23 were arrested last September. The Court of First Instance found them guilty and sentenced them to four years in prison, followed by deportation for the non-nationals. The hearing was adjourned until July 13 at the request of the defence. myoussef@thenational.ae