Doubts expressed over cruise ship casinos proposal

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  • <B>Gaming issue:</B> A number of Chamber of Commerce members have expressed a desire for onshore casinos to be allowed if cruise ships are permitted to open their casinos while in port.

    Gaming issue: A number of Chamber of Commerce members have expressed a desire for onshore casinos to be allowed if cruise ships are permitted to open their casinos while in port.

Allowing cruise ships to open casinos while docked in Bermuda may not be supported by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, unless gaming is allowed on shore as well.

The Chamber is consulting its members by way of an online survey, and so far, the majority of its main contacts are saying that they prefer opening up the whole Island to gaming.

“When asked to consult on gaming a few years back, the Chamber was supportive with the proviso that, if passed, gaming would be permitted on shore and not just aboard ship,” said Chamber Executive Vice President Joanne MacPhee.

“It is our understanding that Minister Derrick Burgess is proposing, by way of a Cabinet Memorandum, to only allow gaming aboard ships while docked in Bermuda waters.”

Debated in the House of Assembly in 2009, The Prohibition of Gaming Machines Amendment Act would have allowed cruise ships to run their casinos in port, but seven ruling party members voted with the Opposition Party to ensure its defeat.

On Monday, Transport Minister Mr Burgess said that the idea would be discussed again by Cabinet. He cited talks with cruise ship executives who complained that they were losing revenue by being forced to close their casino operations and shops while in port.

Doubts about the proposal are not restricted to the Chamber of Commerce membership.

There are indications that Mr Burgess would have to do some hard selling among some members of his own party. And, yesterday, two key One Bermuda Alliance MPs indicated that their party’s support was not necessarily in the bag despite positive sounding comments from their colleague Shawn Crockwell, the Shadow Transport Minister.

Ruling party whip Lovitta Foggo would only say that she is in favour of a referendum on the issue of gaming.

“This is something that impacts members of the community. Their voices should be heard through their vote,” she said.

Ms Foggo voted against the cruise ship gambling bill when it was brought to the House in 2009. She was joined by six other ruling party backbenchers Ashfield DeVent, Dennis Lister, Patrice Minors, Wayne Perinchief, Alex Scott and Dame Jennifer Smith three of whom are now Cabinet Ministers.

And there is a feeling among some ruling party MPs that allowing gaming for cruise ship visitors and not for locals would be discriminatory.

Backbencher Walter Roban was non-committal when asked his view. “I’d have to see what the Minister proposes,” he said.

But ruling party candidate Walton Brown was unequivocal in his support. “I whole-heartedly support allowing cruise ships to open in port unless and until we can provide a greater range of entertainment options on the Island. We should not be imposing any restrictions on what they can offer their customers.”

And the OBA’s Bob Richards said that he remains convinced that an overall policy on gaming is needed. “I don’t have a problem with gaming in principle, particularly for tourists. But we shouldn’t be doing things piecemeal. I don’t think our party’s position on gaming has changed.”

The OBA believes that Bermuda should decide on gaming for the Island through a referendum.

On Monday, immediately after the Transport Minister’s press conference, Mr Crockwell told this newspaper that the whole issue needed revisiting and suggested that his party would vote in favour if a bill was brought back to the House of Assembly.

But his sentiment does not appear to be shared by his colleagues.

“I don’t know that we’ve made a decision on this,” said Bob Richards. “And I find it interesting that it comes from a Transport Minister, not Tourism.”

Grant Gibbons declined to discuss his views saying: “It’s a matter which still needs to be discussed within our caucus.”

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Published Jan 11, 2012 at 8:53 am (Updated Jan 11, 2012 at 8:51 am)

Doubts expressed over cruise ship casinos proposal

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