Gaming expert warns of recipe for disaster’
A plan to bring the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission under ministerial control has been described as “flying in the face” of best practice and a “recipe for disaster” by overseas experts.
Industry insiders in the United States, including one who helped to draft Bermuda’s casino gaming legislation, said the fledgeling industry needed a regulatory body that could make decisions without political interference and with a high degree of integrity.
They insisted the Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2017, tabled by tourism minister Jamahl Simmons last Friday in the House of Assembly, would jeopardise that and could have a “chilling effect” on the island’s progress towards entering the casino industry.
The Bill would compel the commission to follow the directions of the minister and give him power to fire commissioners without cause.
Fredric Gushin, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, which worked for the Bermuda Government to help draft the island’s Casino Gaming Act 2014 and has also worked for the Singapore Government, said gaming commissions had to be accountable but the minister’s amendment was not the way to ensure that.
Mr Gushin added: “Gaming commissions around the world are created to be independent, as much as possible, from the political process because experience has generally been that politics and gaming don’t mix very well.
“It usually results in an implosion or an explosion.”
He said one way to ensure independence was to have staggered fixed-term appointments for commissioners, so a change in government would not result in their removal.
Another was to ban those working for the regulatory body from entering the gaming industry for several years after leaving their posts.
Mr Gushin said: “It’s all done to preserve the integrity of the decision-making process.
“In Bermuda, issuing a casino licence, like anywhere, is a big deal. You want it to be done fairly and with a high degree of integrity.
“You want the public to understand that this was not a political hack or corrupt result.”
Mr Gushin, whose company has worked in 33 American states and 45 countries, said Mr Simmons’s amendment “kind of flies in the face of not compromising the integrity of the gaming commission”.
He added that Singapore was a very different jurisdiction to Bermuda.
Mr Gushin said that when he worked on drafting the law for Bermuda, alongside tourism minister Shawn Crockwell and the Attorney-General Mark Pettingill, there was a consensus that the legislation ought not to copy Singapore entirely and that the commission should be as apolitical as possible.
Mr Gushin, who worked as an assistant director of gaming enforcement in New Jersey for many years before setting up Spectrum, added: “I didn’t hear any objection to that.”
And he warned that the proposed change could put off investors and “certainly have a chilling effect” on efforts to get the industry up and running.
Gaming consultant Gene Johnson, of Victor Strategies, said: “It looks, quite frankly, like an attempt to exert political control over what should be an independent organisation. It is obviously an attempt by a minister to bring the gaming commission under his direct control.
“That’s problematic because one of the fundamental reasons for having a gaming commission is to ensure the integrity of the industry.”
Mr Johnson said the commission’s job was to carefully vet vendors, with political influence playing no part in who was granted a licence. He added: “This is a recipe for disaster.”
He warned it could open the door to corruption and added: “Even the perception of corruption will have a negative impact on the industry.”
Jennifer Roberts, from the International Centre for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told The Royal Gazette: “Bermuda is in a great position to offer regulated casino entertainment along with the other tourist amenities provided within a luxurious resort destination.
“The UNLV-ICGR does not take any position regarding disputes that may occur between legislators and regulators that could impact gaming. The ICGR certainly supports the implementation of a durable gaming regulatory system that promotes fair and honest gaming.
“As such, gaming regulatory systems should remain non-political and independent, and it is common for legal safeguards to be incorporated within those systems, such as prohibitions on current political party representatives serving as gaming regulators, cooling-off periods for transitioning from regulation to industry and due-process protections for removal from a gaming board or commission position.”
Mr Simmons did not respond to a question yesterday on whether he would withdraw the amendment as proposed by gaming commission chairman Alan Dunch in his resignation letter.
The minister said he had received and accepted Mr Dunch’s resignation, and would announce his successor early next week.
The Bill could be debated in the House as soon as next Friday, before going to the Senate.
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