UNREGULATED gambling in Strabane looks as though it has finally reached the finish line, amid fears generated by a landmark ruling in Fermanagh.
In recent weeks one of the Erne county’s most famous pubs – Mac’s Bar in Lisnaskea – lost its liquor license after it was found to be “effecting bookmaking”, taking punters’ bets and placing them with a bookie on their behalf. Toal’s Bookmakers was the party objecting to the bar’s license renewal, claiming unlicensed bookmaking had been taking place on the premises.
After a hearing at Enniskillen Court the local magistrate refused to renew the pub’s license.
Now, following the Fermanagh ruling, the majority of local public houses which were offering similar illicit services have closed the books.
“I think it’s a good thing,” one local punter told this newspaper. “And other people are saying the same thing.”
The man, who preferred not to be named, said the system was too convenient and too open to abuse.
“It was the handiness of it which was bad,” the man said. “If you’re in a bar and there’s racing on the TV, you could always say, ‘stick a tenner on that horse for me.’ But if the book wasn’t behind the bar, there was no way you were going to get off your seat and head for a bookies. It was just too handy.”
One Strabane publican, who again preferred not to be named, said the system should never have been allowed to develop unchecked in the first place.
“I’m a bar man, not a bookmaker,” he said simply.
“The majority of places are packing it in, but there might be one or two that will still do it.”
The bar man agreed it was the Fermanagh ruling which has caused the cessation in gambling, adding that local licensees offering a book behind the bar are now fearful something similar could happen to them.
“It should never have happened in bars anyway, but it did and bars in every town were doing it. It was everywhere.
“In saying all of that, you can still bet online with your phones. But it looks like the majority of local bars are stopping.”