Gaming referendum to be held this year
A referendum on gaming in Bermuda will be held later this year, Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell has announced.
Mr Crockwell made the announcement while briefing MPs about a recent conference for Caribbean hoteliers, developers and hospitality representatives which he said was a “badly needed wake up call for Bermuda”.
The Minister and Tourism Authority chairman designate, David Dodwell, joined hundreds of delegates in Miami at the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit (CHRIS).
Mr Crockwell lamented the fact that Bermuda’s hospitality industry is trailing significantly when compared to competitive destinations in the Caribbean and other regions.
“It is a sobering reality that 2012 was a turnaround year for Caribbean tourism yet in Bermuda our tourism numbers were down six percent, GDP contribution from tourism was down and we are still in decline.
“It became crystal clear to me at the CHRIS conference that we are no longer considered players in the hotel investment arena. As a country we must decide if we want to be in the tourism business or not,” said Mr Crockwell.
He said 2012 “was a turnaround year for most of our competitors to the south, such as the Bahamas, Barbados and Puerto Rico which experienced an increase in tourism in terms of tourism revenue, occupancy and demand”, but that was not the case for Bermuda.
“I also learned of the significant hotel developments in places like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic alone there are ten major developments worth approximately $2.5 billion,” he added.
“In the Bahamas they are developing the ‘Baha Mar’ Resort, which will comprise four hotels with a combined 2,200 rooms, and more than 300 private residences. This is helping their economy tremendously with increasing employment — so much so that there are not enough locals to fill the jobs and guest workers are expected to come to the Island to service this resort.”
He said gaming features prominently in jurisdictions like the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. On the flip side, however, the industry attracted more local residents than visitors.
“When I asked the question of how important gaming was to the jurisdiction, I was told it was crucial in getting new hotel developments to the country. To date their gaming has been geared more towards local residents and consisted mainly of slot machines, as they provide much revenue, but mainly attracted few visitors. However, they are now shifting to table games to bring new visitors to the Island.”
After hearing a presentation by the Premier of Montserrat, and the Deputy Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, he said at no time was there any mention of Bermuda.
“So this is a clear challenge to me as Minister and us as a country — we must make substantial shifts in our approach to tourism. We must make changes going forward,” said Mr Crockwell.
“Those presenters from the financial community made clear that it is still a difficult environment for hotel development — banks are very cautious in lending and private equity is difficult to obtain. For these countries to entice developers, the Government must play a significant role in helping by providing financial incentives which become game changers.
“To achieve these game changers to attract development, this Government will lay the Gaming Referendum Bill this session and we expect to hold a referendum at the end of summer or beginning of fall.
“I will add that it is imperative for our tourism revival that the referendum is supported.”
He also stated that the Tourism Authority statutory framework will be debated before the end of this session. “This will significantly change the structure of how the tourism industry is managed in Bermuda,” he said.
And for the first time ever, the Department of Tourism will host an investment summit for hotel developers in late June.
“We have invited blue-chip developers, hotel investors and advisers to Bermuda — and expect thirteen representatives from this arena to discuss investing in Bermuda, to share their experiences elsewhere, and to tell us how Government can enable investment.”
The summit will be closed to the public and the media and a report will be prepared “summarising the conclusions reached”.
“Once we have concluded our summit I intend to produce a white paper containing recommendations to bring to Parliament, so that Bermuda can finally move forward with much needed development, and assistance to existing hotels, to reinvigorate our tourism sector,” said Mr Crockwell.