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Gaming would level playing field

Allowing gaming in Bermuda would make it easier for hotel developers to compete for investment funds, says one developer.

But Craig Christensen who with Brian Dupperault, and Nelson Hunt, propose to build a $2 billion luxury resort at Morgan's Point, indicated that gaming is not necessarily a panacea.

“For the major development at Morgan's Point, gaming would be extremely useful in expanding our potential market of investors,” Mr Christensen told The Royal Gazette.

“In the absence of gaming, the playing field is tilted in favour of our Caribbean neighbours to our South to receive funding from investors and tourism dollars. Gaming would allow us to try and level the playing field.

“Without gaming, major developments in Bermuda are going to face an uphill battle. Gaming is not new, we would simply be catching up to other jurisdictions. Even with gaming, future developments will require far more vision and creativity to be successful and competitive.”

Government is under pressure from the business community and developers to legislate gaming without a referendum. But, while there appears to be some division over the issue within the One Bermuda Alliance, Premier Craig Cannonier has said that his administration will stick to its election promise to have the people decide in a referendum.

While Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell has said the referendum will take place by year's end, Government is yet to pass the legislation which would set the stage for the poll.

Nor has it launched any kind of awareness campaign to educate the public on what gaming would mean for Bermuda.

But parliament reopens next month and a “full explanation” and update will be given then, said Mr Crockwell last night.

A law would have to be passed to hold the gaming referendum and the Referendum Act 2012 requires that the Premier give notice of the poll within 90 days. The law also provides that the voter turnout must be at least 50 percent for a yes vote to prevail.

Financing appears to be a major sticking point for at least three proposed developments.

And Government has indicated a willingness to facilitate guarantees to help out.

In the latest development, Finance Minister Bob Richards has announced that he is considering a guarantee so that the Morgan's Point developers can engage in loan talks.

Mr Richards said Government's guarantee was necessary because the developers had told him that environmental remediation issues were making it harder to negotiate a loan for the first phase of the project.

Yesterday, Mr Christensen clarified the position.

“It is not the remediation process, but rather that many institutions will simply not finance any polluted site as part of their policy. Even though we have had a commitment from The Bermuda Government, this has not satisfied those lending institutions,” he said.

Mr Christensen said whether gaming is legalised or not would not impact financing for the first phase of the project.

The former Progressive Labour Party Government agreed to take responsibility for the clean-up after it gave the developer 80 acres of the 240-acre brownfield site in exchange for reserve land at Southlands in 2008.

Government then spent three years in talks with the US Government in an attempt to persuade Washington to pay for the remediation work, but in March 2011 the then-Works & Engineering Minister Derrick Burgess confirmed that those talks had failed, and that the taxpayer would be hit with a cleaning bill in the region of $35-$38 million.

The land swap agreement was legally finalised in June 2012 and clean-up work began shortly after.

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Published August 20, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 20, 2013 at 1:26 am)

Gaming would level playing field

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