Gaming secrecy risks island’s reputation
Bermuda will find it hard to promote itself as a “sparklingly clean” gambling jurisdiction if the industry regulator is not upfront about its own finances, overseas experts have warned.
Gene Johnson, a gaming consultant, told The Royal Gazette that a report on the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission’s rejection of a public access to information request for records about its income and expenditure raised red flags about its accountability.
Mr Johnson said: “Bermuda, to do it right, wants to present itself as a sparklingly clean, all above board, heavily regulated gambling jurisdiction. It’s a question of transparency.
“This is not comforting to investors or banks looking to engage with the gaming commission and provide financial wherewithal. For any regulatory authority, its No 1 attribute, the primary quality that makes it relevant, is trust and accountability.
He added: “The reason you have that regulatory authority is so you can have the trust and confidence that everything is going to be above board and regulated in the transactions that go on in casinos.
“If a taxpayer-funded agency is not providing information on how they are spending their money, that tends to erode the credibility and trust.”
Mr Johnson, executive vice-president at Victor Strategies in New Jersey, said: “If I’m not mistaken, the gaming commission in Bermuda is taxpayer-funded, so essentially what they are saying is Bermuda’s citizens won’t be able to see how their tax dollars are being spent.”
Roger Gros, publisher of Nevada-based Global Gaming Business Magazine, said the commission’s refusal to release records was “very unusual”.
He added: “Regulatory agencies are supposed to be transparent. That’s why they are there.
“If you can’t count on them to give you the most basic of information, they are being far from transparent. They are being totally opaque.”
Mr Gros agreed secrecy was likely to deter any reputable casino operators from considering Bermuda as a place to invest and discourage banks’ involvement in the fledgeling industry.
He said: “The banks are not going to come in unless everything is above board and squeaky clean.
Mr Gros added that the Pati refusal was the latest in a series of warning signs related to the commission, including its inability to recruit a new executive director for the past year-and-a-half and the Government’s decision to lessen its independence and bring it under increased ministerial control.
Mr Gros added: “I don’t see the Bermuda casino industry moving forward at any kind of speed.”
The gaming commission has been given at least $5.4 million of taxpayers’ cash since it was set up in 2015.
It turned down a Pati request from The Royal Gazette last November for details of its income and expenditure for the last two financial years on the grounds that the records contained information received in confidence.
It also refused to release:
• the total amount it spent on legal fees for a civil case against its former executive director Richard Schuetz;
• any memorandums of understanding it has or has had with outside agencies;
• details of any agreements it has with the United Kingdom Gambling Commission; and
• the consultancy agreement it has with George Rover, the former deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
Commission chairwoman Cheryl-Ann Mapp upheld the refusal on January 22, the same day the commission published details in the Official Gazette of contracts it holds worth $50,000 or more, in line with the Pati Act.
The Official Gazette notice revealed that it had spent almost $600,000 on legal services over the past two years, including nearly $66,000 on an injunction against Mr Schuetz.
Ms Mapp did not respond to a request for comment.