Dunch stands down as casino gaming chairman
Under-fire gaming chief Alan Dunch has quit his post, days after the Government tabled legislation to oust him and place the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission under ministerial control.
Mr Dunch told tourism minister Jamahl Simmons in a letter sent last night that the proposed change to the law “completely undermines the fundamental premise upon which I agreed to serve as chairman of the Casino Gaming Commission, namely that the commission would be a wholly autonomous, independent regulatory body which would operate free from political interference and government dictate”.
Mr Simmons confirmed he had received and accepted the resignation of Mr Dunch, adding: “I thank him for his service and will announce his successor early next week.”
The outgoing chairman, a director at MJM law firm, urged Mr Simmons to withdraw the legislative amendment, which, he claimed, could “impede Bermuda's ability to attract first-class people of the utmost integrity to both operate and regulate the gaming industry here”.
Mr Dunch, who will leave his post officially on December 6, told The Royal Gazette: “I acknowledge the reality that if these amendments are passed, then he will simply fire me. Given the impetus for these amendments is the desire to have me go, now that I'm going to go after the next commission meeting, I hope he rethinks whether there is any need to make the amendments.
“I truly believe the amendment that compels the commission to follow [the minister's] direction on any given subject is going to be very counterproductive in terms of putting Bermuda on the international gaming stage as a credible jurisdiction.”
The Bill tabled in the House of Assembly last Friday has prompted criticism from the island's gaming commissioners and overseas experts, including an opinion piece in an international gaming publication that claimed bringing the regulatory body under government control would be the “definition of corruption”.
If approved, the Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2017, would change the law to compel the commission to follow the tourism minister's “general directions” on policy and allow him to remove commissioners without cause, in any circumstances he “considers appropriate”.
Commissioners can be removed at present only if they are incapable of managing their affairs, or for bankruptcy reasons, or if they are convicted of a dishonesty offence.
Mr Dunch, who was appointed as gaming commission chairman in May 2015 for a four-year term, has been in Mr Simmons's crosshairs since August, when the latter made the first of three attempts to fire him.
On August 10, Mr Simmons e-mailed Mr Dunch to “formally” invite him to consider resigning — a move Mr Dunch said “surprised and disappointed” him because the new minister had just a few weeks before declared his “unequivocal confidence, support and enthusiasm” for the chairman and his team.
Mr Simmons tried to sack Mr Dunch again on September 27 and then on October 20, the same day Mr Dunch publicly questioned a claim by local firm MM&I Holdings that it would give away 95 per cent of its profits to good causes if it landed a lucrative government gaming deal.
As revealed in a special report by The Royal Gazette, MM&I and its Florida-based partner firm Banyan Gaming had been trying to secure the deal since 2013, even signing an memorandum of understanding with the One Bermuda Alliance government, which was later terminated.
MM&I is represented by lawyer Mark Pettingill, who pushed for the MOU when he was Attorney-General in the OBA Cabinet, as did the late Shawn Crockwell, then the tourism minister. Banyan representatives appeared as “experts” at a Progressive Labour Party forum in May promoting their “cashless gaming” product.
Mr Dunch has repeatedly resisted the minister's attempts to sack him, insisting there was no statutory basis to remove him.
But in his resignation letter, he wrote: “It is my sincere hope that in making this decision to resign, you and the Government might now consider it unnecessary to move forward with the proposed amendments and, in the best interests of Bermuda, choose instead to withdraw the Amendment Act which ... is ill-advised and could do irreversible harm to the reputation of our country.”
Mr Simmons said on Tuesday the legislative change would bring Bermuda “in alignment with other jurisdictions in terms of allowing ... the minister to remove members of the commission who do not follow legal directions of the Government”.
He said it mirrored gaming legislation in Singapore but did not name any other gaming jurisdiction with similar provisions, even after questions from The Royal Gazette.
Mr Dunch, who was appointed by Mr Crockwell, said yesterday: “It's true that similar provisions exist in Singapore but Singapore is governed by a very different governance system to the Western world.
“I know from my discussions with the late Shawn Crockwell that when the original Act was introduced, there was a deliberate decision not to include those types of provisions, as he wanted to establish a commission that was clearly free of political influence and interference.”
Most leading gaming jurisdictions in the United States — including California, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — allow gaming commissioners to be removed only with cause, or after a vote in the relevant legislative chamber.
Legislation in Britain allows the Secretary of State to dismiss a commissioner if the secretary thinks the commissioner is unable, unfit or unwilling to perform their functions.
Mr Dunch said he never indicated to Mr Simmons that he would not resign; it was merely a question of timing. He wanted to remain chairman until:
• The Hamilton Princess provisional casino licence hearing was held
• Regulations were approved by MPs to ensure a proper regulatory framework was in place and banks were on board to “bank” the island's casinos
• A replacement was found for the commission's outgoing executive director, Richard Schuetz, who leaves the island next month
Only the first of those goals was achieved, Mr Dunch admitted, adding: “It's obviously disappointing to me that I'm not going to have the opportunity to finish what I started, but that's life.”
• Click on the links under Related Media for pdf copies of Mr Dunch's resignation letter and the Casino Gaming Amendment