Schuetz mystified at threat to fire Dunch
The Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission should not have to worry about keeping politicians happy, its executive director Richard Schuetz said yesterday.
Mr Schuetz said he was mystified at tourism minister Jamahl Simmons' threat to fire Alan Dunch as chairman of the commission.
Mr Simmons claimed Mr Dunch's public statements were “not in the best interests of the Government” and that his conduct had been “in breach of international standards” of similar commissions.
The Royal Gazette reported yesterday that Mr Simmons had called on Mr Dunch to resign three times in the past three months.
The latest call came last Friday, just after Mr Dunch publicly questioned the intentions of MM&I, the firm involved in a controversial bid for a government gaming contract worth tens of millions of dollars a year.
Mr Simmons, who has refused to say whether the Progressive Labour Party government is in talks with MM&I, did not specify how Mr Dunch's comments were not in government's interest, nor what international standards Mr Dunch had breached.
Mr Schuetz, a member of the International Association of Gaming Regulators who has worked as a commissioner in a string of US states, said: “There are a great many countries in the world where questioning the government can get you in jail, so I am unclear of what international standard is being discussed.
“In California, I would take on a licence applicant that may have been a great friend or financial supporter of the governor, and that did not bother me one bit.
“I was also critical of the government in many instances in California. This ability to serve the law is of critical importance, and it was much more important to serve the law than to worry about keeping some politician happy.”
Asked if he was aware of anything that Mr Dunch has done that could be considered in breach of international standards, Mr Schuetz said: “International standards is a reasonably vague term in that the world is a very big place with some democratic nations and some authoritarian regimes, and all kinds of things in between. I suppose one could shop around the world for the answer they wanted.
“What is important to understand is that our Act addresses the issues that can result in disqualification of a member, and it has nothing to do with being in breach of international standards.
“It is unclear why the minister would try and disqualify Mr Dunch apparently using some other country's laws. Our Act does not state that he has to be in compliance with someone's notion of an international standard. The law seems very plain and simple in Bermuda.”
According to the Casino Gaming Act 2014, members can be disqualified from the commission if they are incapable of managing their affairs, or for bankruptcy reasons, or if they are convicted of a dishonesty offence.
Mr Dunch, whose contract expires in May 2019, said earlier he had no intention of resigning and did not believe there was any statutory basis to remove him.
Mr Schuetz said it was normal practice for a gaming commission chairman to be a statutory appointment.
He said: “In the US, it is quite common, and the whole point is to maintain a strong degree of independence for the commission.
“When I was a commissioner in California, it was against the law for the government to interfere with the operation of the commission, and there were strict rules regarding the process that had to be followed to remove a member. This is true in most states.”
In a special report last Wednesday, this newspaper revealed MM&I stands to net tens of millions of dollars a year if it is given the contract to provide a cashless gaming network management system for any casinos that open on the island.
The gaming commission has warned the deal could damage Bermuda's financial reputation and highlighted that people associated with its partner firm, Banyan Gaming, have surrendered their gaming licences in major gambling jurisdictions in the United States.
MM&I reached an agreement with the One Bermuda Alliance government while Mark Pettingill, who represents MM&I, and Mr Pettingill's business partner, the late Shawn Crockwell, were both in Cabinet.
The memorandum of understanding was terminated by the OBA in July 2016 following advice from the gaming commission.
In the following months, Mr Dunch publicly locked horns over casino licence fees with Mr Pettingill and Mr Crockwell, as well as Zane DeSilva, now a PLP Cabinet minister, who helped organise a public gaming forum in which Banyan representatives were introduced as experts.
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