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Fact-finding Las Vegas trip cost $6,500

Gaming Commission : Chairman Alan Dunch. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

A weeklong trip to Las Vegas by the chairman and executive director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission cost almost $6,500.

Commission chairman Alan Dunch disclosed the figure in a press release yesterday, after questions from The Royal Gazette. He also revealed that he and Richard Schuetz flew business class to the Nevada city that is famous for its casinos and stayed at Caesars Palace.

Mr Dunch compared the $6,499 cost of the trip with a fact-finding visit on gaming to Singapore in January 2014 made by Shawn Crockwell and Mark Pettingill, when they were tourism minister and Attorney-General respectively.

“The total cost to the commission for the seven-day trip to Las Vegas for two people was $6,499, somewhat less than the $46,000-plus it cost to take two ministers and an assistant to Singapore for five days,” he said.

He broke down the costs for the September 2015 Las Vegas trip as $3,306 on air travel, $2,017 on hotel accommodation, $628 on food and $548 on ground transportation. Staying at Caesars Palace and getting a corporate-approved government rate had, he added, saved the commission about $5,000.

“The trip was designed around attending G2E, the largest gaming show in North America,” Mr Dunch said. “Mr Schuetz wanted to introduce me to the products and people that make up the gaming industry.

“Beyond that, Mr Schuetz had made arrangements to meet on a private and confidential basis with five large and well-branded casino operators to discuss the opportunities available in Bermuda and to encourage them to consider visiting the island. In addition, we met with regulators from around the world and toured a great many of the different casinos, including the opportunity to view many areas typically inaccessible to the public.

“We also toured manufacturers, testing laboratories and met a large number of executives, regulators, managers, journalists, lobbyists and the like.”

Yesterday’s press release was the second in two days on the regulatory body’s dealings with Caesars Entertainment Corporation, after questions were raised in the House of Assembly last month about potential conflicts of interest.

The executive vice-president of government relations and corporate responsibility for Caesars is Jan Jones Blackhurst, the former wife of Mr Schuetz and a past mayor of Las Vegas.

Mr Dunch said on Wednesday that the commission was “bewildered as to how anyone could conclude that the relationship between Mr Schuetz and Ms Jones Blackhurst could constitute a conflict of interest”.

He said the Vegas visit was of value because about 90 per cent of the tourist traffic to Bermuda was from North America.

“We believed that there is great value to providing a brand that people recognise and trust.

“We thought that these operators might be interested in new development opportunities, acquiring an existing resort on the island or providing management services to a local resort owner interested in adding the casino amenity.

“It is our belief that the North American companies have a greater institutional knowledge in operating casinos under rigorous regimes of anti-money laundering controls and possess corporate cultures that emphasise compliance. It is our belief that these qualities will provide a higher level of comfort to the banking system in working with Bermuda to process casino transactions, a critical component in being able to even offer integrated resort casinos in Bermuda.

“This position has subsequently confirmed to be of material importance and endorsed by finance minister Bob Richards, who has been communicating with the banking community on these issues, and also then-minister Shawn Crockwell.”

A list of all the Vegas trip activities accompanied the press release and included a guest lecture given by Mr Schuetz to the University of Nevada law school and a meeting with an expert on online gaming.

The Royal Gazette has sent detailed questions to Mr Dunch and Mr Schuetz since the June 24 House session, but they have declined to do an interview.