Wheel spinning slowly for casino gaming
What might have been the odds, at the beginning of 2010, that Bermuda would still be waiting for its first casino by the end of 2019?
Given the issue’s perpetual role as a lightning rod for controversy, it was probably a long shot.
Those in favour repeatedly pushed for Parliament to pave the way for gaming to become a key pillar of the island’s tourism industry.
But despite the Bermuda Tourism Board issuing a report in 2011 calling for a casino to be opened within two years, the decade came and went with none to be seen.
Some progress was made with the approval of gaming legislation and regulations, including the formation of a gaming commission.
However, one of the biggest stumbling blocks remained in place at the end of the decade as the Government had still not secured local banks to accept the proceeds of casino gaming.
The One Bermuda Alliance government enraged sections of the community in 2013 when it abandoned a promise to hold a referendum on legalising casinos, and instead passed the Casino Gaming Act, which would allow three casinos to open and which would create the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.
The commission made headlines on several occasions, as executive director Richard Schuetz and chairman Alan Dunch, who were appointed by the OBA administration, ended up resigning.
Mr Schuetz quit for “personal and professional reasons” on the day of the General Election in 2017; Deborah Blakeney took over in an acting role but left the commission in 2019.
Shortly after winning the election, the Progressive Labour Party government went to war with Mr Dunch, who publicly questioned MM&I Holdings and its controversial bid for a multimillion-dollar contract to provide a cashless gaming network management system in casinos.
MM&I had reached an agreement with the OBA while Mark Pettingill, who represented MM&I, and Mr Pettingill’s business partner, Shawn Crockwell, were both in the OBA Cabinet.
The gaming commission warned the deal could damage Bermuda’s financial reputation, and highlighted that individuals from MM&I’s partner firm, Banyan Gaming, had surrendered their gaming licences in leading gambling jurisdictions in the United States.
Tourism minister Jamahl Simmons responded by urging Mr Dunch to quit, and then introduced legislation bringing the previously independent commission under ministerial control — a move that attracted fierce criticism from international gaming experts.
Mr Dunch resigned in protest at the legislation, to be replaced by Cheryl-Ann Mapp. Fellow commissioners Garry Madeiros and Derek Ramm also stepped down.
Another hot topic in 2017 was a purported trip due to be taken by David Burt, then the Opposition leader, with PLP MP Zane DeSilva, Mr Pettingill and Mr Crockwell, the day after Mr Crockwell was found dead at his home.
OBA MP Patricia Gordon-Pamplin claimed the “unlikely quartet” had planned to meet would-be gaming operators at the Four Seasons hotel in New York, a week before the General Election.
Mr Burt dismissed the claims as a “figment of the imagination” of the former government.
In November 2019, more legislation was passed to put the finishing touches to the island’s casino gambling rules.
But finance minister Curtis Dickinson warned the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club and the St Regis in St George’s, which hoped to have casinos, that the Government was still seeking “some certainty around banking”.
Mr Dickinson said his ministry was in talks with banks in Bermuda to find “creative solutions”.
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