Tourism minister Jamahl Simmons called on Alan Dunch to quit his gaming commission role immediately after Mr Dunch publicly questioned a firm controversially bidding for a multimillion-dollar government contract.
Mr Simmons has tried to oust Mr Dunch as chairman of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission three times in the past three months, according to letters and e-mails obtained by The Royal Gazette yesterday.
The latest came on Friday, after Mr Dunch poured scorn over MM&I Holdings’ claim that it planned to give away the vast majority of its casino profits to good causes.
Mr Simmons told Mr Dunch his conduct was “in breach of international standards” and his comments were “not in the best interests of the Government”.
He warned him the invitation to resign was made as an alternative to revoking his chairmanship.
Mr Dunch’s contract expires in May 2019, and he has told Mr Simmons he does not believe there is any statutory basis upon which he can be removed.
After the first correspondence in August, Mr Dunch expressed his surprise that Mr Simmons requested his resignation “out of the blue”, a few weeks after declaring his “unequivocal confidence, support and enthusiasm” for the chairman and his team.
Last night, Mr Dunch told this newspaper he has no intention of resigning and that the gaming commission is set up to be free from political interference. He added that Mr Simmons had been unable to explain to him why his removal as chairman would be in the best interests of Bermuda.
In a special report last Wednesday, this newspaper reported how MM&I stands to net tens of millions of dollars a year if it is given the contract to provide a cashless gaming network management system for any casinos that open on the island.
The gaming commission has warned the deal could damage Bermuda’s financial reputation, noting that individuals associated with its partner firm, Banyan Gaming, have surrendered their gaming licences in major gambling jurisdictions in the United States.
We reported how MM&I had reached an agreement with the One Bermuda Alliance government while Mark Pettingill, who represents MM&I, and Mr Pettingill’s business partner, the late Shawn Crockwell, were both in the OBA Cabinet.
The memorandum of understanding was terminated by OBA tourism minister Michael Fahy in July 2016 after he received advice from the gaming commission.
In the following months, Mr Dunch publicly locked horns with Mr Pettingill and Mr Crockwell over casino licence fees.
Mr Simmons has refused to say whether the Progressive Labour Party government is in talks with MM&I or Banyan. Five months ago, Zane DeSilva, now a PLP Cabinet minister, helped organise a public gaming forum in which Banyan representatives were introduced as experts.
Correspondence shared with The Royal Gazette yesterday shows that three weeks after the PLP’s landslide General Election victory, newly appointed Mr Simmons e-mailed Mr Dunch.
He wrote on August 8: “After careful consideration, I write to formally invite you to give consideration to tendering your resignation as chairman of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.”
Mr Dunch responded that it would be inappropriate for him to resign while crucial talks were ongoing over casino banking issues and the search for a new executive director.
He wrote in an e-mail on August 11: “I have to say that, in light of the cordiality of our conversation late last month (in which you expressed unequivocal confidence, support and enthusiasm for me and my team) and our scheduled call on Tuesday next, I am both surprised and disappointed that you should, out of the blue, now invite me to consider resigning my position as chairman of the BCGC.
“As you will no doubt have been advised, my appointment is a statutory one and (as I recall in the absence of having my appointment letter with me) it does not expire until May 2019. I do not believe there is any current statutory basis upon which I can be removed.”
On September 27, Mr Simmons wrote: “After much consideration and the passing of the public form on September 22, I have decided that your term will conclude effective September 29, 2017.
“Thank you for your service to the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission and the people of Bermuda.”
However, as of this weekend, Mr Dunch remained in his post.
After this newspaper’s article about the gaming commission’s concerns over MM&I last Wednesday, Mr Pettingill released a statement claiming that the company would retain only a “very small profit margin” from the tens of millions of dollars it stands to make.
He said 95 per cent of all profits would go to “churches, community clubs, vulnerable citizens’ programmes, etc”.
Mr Dunch replied with a statement expressing “interest, intrigue and a degree of incredulity” at the claim.
He said in this newspaper on Friday: “Until we read it in the paper yesterday, at no time was the commission ever made aware of the purported philanthropic objectives of MM&I and certainly no representations of the sort made in their response will be found in any of the written or verbal communications that the commission has had with the principals of MM&I — nor are they in any of the documents to which the commission has been made privy.”
Later on Friday, Mr Simmons wrote to Mr Dunch: “I write to invite you to resign from your position as chairman.
“Please be advised that this invitation is made as an alternative to revoking your chairmanship as a result of your conduct which has been considered to be in breach of international standards, as they relate to members of a gaming commission.
“Further, it is our view that your recent public statements are not in the best interests of the Government.”
Responding when contacted by this newspaper last night, Mr Dunch said: “I am surprised that you have been made aware of the communications between myself and the Minister, but so be it.
“Following upon a request for my resignation in mid-August, at a meeting with the minister on September 6 he reiterated that request on the sole basis that he had been given a mandate to make changes at every level.
“He was unable to articulate to me and my deputy as to why such a change would be in the best interests of Bermuda now or in the future and nor has he since.
“There are a number of unfinished initiatives being worked on by the commission at this stage and, in my humble but considered opinion, as well as that of my fellow commissioners, it would be counterproductive to the mandate of the commission and the completion of those initiatives if the commission’s work were to be disrupted now by a change in leadership, particularly given that the executive director [Richard Schuetz] will be leaving us in mid-December.
“Bermuda’s best interests would not be best served by such an occurrence at this point in time.
“Like my fellow commissioners, I have a statutory appointment and my term of office does not run out until May, 2019. There is no provision in our Act that provides for the Minister to seek my resignation nor to remove me from office.
“That is intentional, in that the commission was set up to be independent and free from political influence or interference. Accordingly, I have no current intention of resigning as chairman.
“I look forward to working with the Minister as we move forward together to see the gaming initiative become a reality.”
Mr Simmons released a statement last night, which read: “The Government does not disclose internal matters to the media and is committed to delivering on our mandate to execute change.”
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