Gaming: what is the plan?
On March 1, 2019, finance minister Curtis Dickinson provided the House of Assembly with a statement “Update on the Work of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission”. I was naturally interested in this update, as gaming is an amenity that can benefit our hospitality industry and Bermuda.
In addition, there has been an evident lack of progress on making gaming a reality, since the Progressive Labour Party became the government in July 2017.
The BCGC has lacked the leadership and driving force required for this initiative after the departure of the former chairman (Alan Dunch) and executive director (Richard Schuetz), and we have seen unacceptable ministerial interference.
In his statement, the finance minister said the first priority was to secure a correspondent bank.
This was always expected to be a critical challenge to overcome, but one that the One Bermuda Alliance believed could be attained, with solid and well-drafted casino gaming regulations. Without these regulations, a correspondent bank will not be achieved.
So why in more than two years of a PLP government have these regulations not been tabled?
A comprehensive draft was completed by the former chairman of the BCGC and his team, it was blessed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers, approved by Cabinet, and was ready to be tabled under the negative resolution procedure, until the election was called, owing to the antics of certain MPs.
Why has the PLP to date failed to act on this critical component?
Second, Mr Dickinson stated another critical priority was the recruitment of an executive director.
He said the services of an executive recruiter would be engaged to assist in securing a “qualified leader”, for the commission.
When questioned four months later, in July about the progress, the minister admitted no executive recruiter was engaged, the BCGC would do it on its own and, while a candidate had been identified, no other details could be provided.
This begs the question as to why, 18 months after the departure of the former Mr Schuetz, this critical leadership position remains vacant?
During a July 2019 sitting of the House, I questioned the finance minister on the cost to run the BCGC from April 1 2018 through to the end of June 2019.
I was informed that the total cost for that period was $2,513,062 broken down as follows:
•• Salaries and wages $1,373,413
•• Consultants and service-provider fees $336,573
•• Administrative costs $426,035
•• Rent $267,171
•• General overhead $88,552
•• Other expenses $132,320.
This is a significant amount of money, and, while this is not a comment directed at the staff of the commission, it must be questioned how spending of more than $2.5 million can be justified with no results. Gaming, and the millions of dollars invested, appears to be at this point, dead in the water under the PLP.
Before the 2017 election, the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club was granted a provisional licence, which, I suggest, the lack of action by the PLP has rendered moot, and the legislation itself was amended to allow Desarrollos a licence, which it now cannot implement. The known interest in gaming by both the Hamilton Princess and the St Regis project in the East End, has hit a roadblock, and the PLP government has sent a bad message with its handling of gaming.
One must question whether we are open for business and if investors have the confidence to take a “gamble” on Bermuda under PLP leadership.
David Burt, the Premier, said recently that all good ideas would be considered. Well, here is one: make gaming a reality. Desist from any political interference and allow capable and experienced professionals to get the job done.
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