ONE OF Fermanagh’s best-known pubs has lost its liquor licence after it was found to be “effecting bookmaking” by taking punters’ bets in the bar and placing them with a bookie on their behalf.
The licence for Mac’s Bar in Lisnaskea was up for renewal at Enniskillen Magistrates Court last week, in what would normally be a straight forward procedure.
The court was told there were no objections to the licence renewal from either the police or the District Council. However, Toal’s Bookmakers had objected to the renewal, claiming bookmaking had been taking place on the premises.
Barrister for Toal’s Bookmakers, Liam McCollum, claimed bets were being taken by Mr McGovern in Mac’s Bar and were being rang through to “an unknown source”, possibly a bookmakers in the South, and that money was being paid out to patrons in the bar.
This was an allegation refuted by licence holder Brian McGovern, who said the bar was frequented by many local, and often elderly customers and explained that he often wrote out bets for the patrons and then someone would go to the bookies and place these bets at either Toal’s or Ladbroke’s in Lisnaskea.
Stating Toal’s Bookmakers was typical “of multinationals coming into the town” and that “we don’t have the money like Toal’s do” to afford “a big barrister like yourself,” Mr McGovern said what went on in Mac’s Bar was “the same as every bar in Northern Ireland.”
Mr McCollum said what Mr McGovern had been doing, taking money for bets then sending someone to the bookies with them, was “effecting bookmaking” and in itself was illegal on a licensed premises.
“How would you like it if Mr Toal started selling beer in his bookies?” he asked.
The court was then shown video footage, without audio, from Mac’s Bar that had been filmed by a private investigator on the afternoon of July 1.
The footage showed a number of patrons at the bar, while there appeared to be horse racing on the TV, and it showed Mr McGovern talking to patrons and writing things down.
Mr McGovern said the video did not show anything, and said he could’ve been writing down anything.
“I could’ve been taking an order for the chip shop,” he said.
Mr McCollum said there was “no one in that video who couldn’t walk to the betting shop.”
When asked about notebooks he was writing in, Mr McGovern said he kept records of everything, including his weekly shop, and said he kept a ledger of who owed money to the bar, for drinks on tick.
The private investigator, who filmed the footage covertly using a camera in a pair of glasses, gave evidence that while he was in the bar, people were betting on racing that was on the screen.
He said he’d heard people saying things like “£4 on number three” or “£2 on number one.” He said he saw one woman, whose horse had come in second, being paid out £14.
Mr McCollum put it to the court that, as he was “effecting bookmaking” at the bar, Mr McGovern was “not fit” to hold a licence and the premises was unsuitable.
Barrister for Mac’s Bar, Craig Patton, said while McGovern had admitted to taking money and putting on bets for patrons, it was “a very different allegation that he was operating as a bookmaker.”
He added the penalty for being convicted for such an offence would not include the loss of the bar’s licence.
District Judge Nigel Broderick said the objection had been made on the grounds illegal activity had been taking place at the bar, and said he was satisfied of this based on the evidence of the private investigator.
Judge Broderick said he was satisfied Mr McGovern was not a fit person to run a licence premises, and refused to renew the licence. Mr McGovern is to appeal the decision.
Toal’s also made an objection to the renewal of the licence for another Lisnaskea pub, Frank’s Bar on similar grounds. While the judge also refused to grant this renewal, this was because the licence holder was not the person in charge of running the pub on a daily basis. No further details were heard, and this refusal is also being appealed.