Critics call Simmons over casino plan
Critics at home and overseas continued yesterday to pour scorn over a plan to bring the island’s casino regulatory body under ministerial control.
The Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2017, expected to be debated and approved in Parliament early next month, will give tourism minister Jamahl Simmons the power to fire without cause fixed-term commissioners and force the independent Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission to follow government policy directions.
The proposal led to gaming commission chairman Alan Dunch’s resignation last week — and his fellow commissioners joined him to warn of their “grave concerns” about a “potentially sad and seriously backward misstep”.
Industry insiders in the United States also weighed in and one said the move was a “recipe for disaster”.
David Burt, the Premier, said at a press conference on Tuesday that it was untrue to say government was taking away the commission’s independence.
He added: “It is necessary for the Government to have a working relationship with the Casino Gaming Commission.
“An example is the Government’s relationship with the Bermuda Monetary Authority. As the Minister of Finance, I have the ability to give directions to the BMA, but no one is saying that the Bermuda Monetary Authority is not independent.”
Mr Simmons also warned that legislation governing the Bermuda Tourism Authority, where board members are also appointed for fixed terms, could be amended as well if it ceased to have a “mutually respectful” relationship with government.
The controversial statements brought a fast response on Twitter.
Former political blogger Christian Dunleavy said the comparison with the BMA, regulator of the island’s financial services sector, was a “red herring”.
The former United Bermuda Party candidate explained: “The Bermuda Monetary Authority is not an equivalent body to a gaming commission.
“Nor does the minister have the ability to remove a BMA member for not following ministerial direction, as is being proposed with the gaming commission.”
The BMA Act gives the finance minister power to issue written directions to the authority which are “in the public interest” and requires the authority to follow them.
But there is nothing in the legislation to allow members of the authority to be removed without cause as proposed in the gaming amendment Bill.
Sources told The Royal Gazette yesterday that they agreed that the proposed changes to the gaming law on gaming did not mirror the BMA Act.
One source, who asked not be named, said: “The big difference is that if gaming commissioners don’t follow the minister’s ‘general directions’, they will be able to be fired.
“Nothing in the BMA Act allows that to happen.”
A second source added: “I happen to know the BMA Act very well. I watched the press conference with great interest and pulled out the BMA Act and read it again.
“There is a section about terminating the appointment of BMA directors, with cause. But what’s being proposed for the gaming commission is quite different.”
A third source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “International business can’t be happy when the Premier stands before the country and says ‘we control the BMA’.
“That’s the most important regulatory entity on the island and to say it’s become a tool of the government ... my God.
That source asked: “Is the Premier suggesting that if he becomes upset with the BMA, that he can dismiss them?
“That is a huge statement if that is what he intends to state. It is one thing to threaten the BTA to pay attention or this will happen to you and another thing to tell the BMA that.”
A fourth source said Mr Simmons’s warning to the tourism authority was “disturbing”.
The source also questioned Mr Simmons’s repeated claim that the gaming amendment would bring Bermuda into line with Singapore, the jurisdiction Bermuda’s casino legislation was initially based upon.
The source said: “The minister and his legal team are trying to pull the wool over our collective eyes with respect to hiding behind the skirts of Singapore.”
The source pointed out that Singapore’s legislation contained three main objectives — keeping the industry free from criminal influence or exploitation, ensuring gaming was conducted honestly and controlling the potential for harm to society.
Singapore law allows the minister to give directions to the gaming commission but adds that those directions must be “not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act”.
The source said that exemption was “conspicuous by its absence” in the amendment tabled by Mr Simmons.
Mr Dunleavy tweeted: “Singapore is a dictatorship.”
Gaming consultant Fredric Gushin, who helped draft Bermuda’s law, last week said parts of the Singapore Act were excluded from Bermuda law to ensure the commission’s independence.
Mark Lipparelli, a former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board and a former state senator, on Wednesday posted on social media about the proposed legislative change.
He said on Twitter: “The hallmark of good regulatory structure is a commission free from day-to-day government interference and a board/agency/executive director answerable to an independent commission.
“Keeps everyone on their toes. Without it, mischief possible.”
Gaming industry journalist Roger Gros posted that it was “very bad news” for Bermuda for the Premier to back a Bill to remove the commission’s independence.
He wrote: “When the Government controls who works for the commission and for how long, that is complete control, not ‘working with’ the commission.”
Mr Burt did not respond by press time to questions which asked him to elaborate on the BMA comparison.
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