Scott: gaming amendments threaten industry
The deputy Opposition leader yesterday said proposed changes to gaming legislation would “pierce the heart” of Bermuda's future as a gambling centre.
Leah Scott added that the amendments, expected to be debated in the House of Assembly next month, could damage the independence of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.
The amendments would give Jamahl Simmons, the Minister of Tourism, the power to fire fixed-term commissioners without cause and force the independent commission to follow government policy directions.
But the plan has come under fire by gaming experts and led to the resignation of the former chairman, Alan Dunch.
Ms Scott said: “In an attempt to justify his reasoning to amend the Casino Gaming Amendment, the minister states that the legislation ‘brings Bermuda in alignment with other jurisdictions in terms of allowing the Government to provide policy direction and allow the minister to remove members of the commission who do not follow legal directions of the Government'.”
Ms Scott asked: “Was the legal direction of the minister one that would encourage Bermuda to proceed in a relationship that has the potential to cause damage to Bermuda's reputation — particularly at a time when we are already under intense global scrutiny?
“Is that the legal direction that Mr Dunch, in his capacity as chairman of the Gaming Commission, did not follow, and subsequently led to his resignation and the appointment of Cheryl Mapp in his stead? Is it the minister's assumption that Mrs Mapp will simply follow his legal directions without question?”
Ms Scott also questioned whether a law change would damage a casino's ability to get banking services in Bermuda.
She said: “This is a critical consideration. If a casino can't get banking services, then casino gaming is a non-starter.
“First of all, the local banks here have to assess whether they even have an appetite to take on gaming proceeds with the risk that entails in relation to possible corruption and money laundering.
“If the answer to that question is yes, then the next question is how will those funds be cleared?”
She added the independence of the gaming commission could be a “deal-breaker” for banks, and that co-respondent banks would not accept money from a Bermuda bank without the security of a strong legal framework.
Ms Scott said that any comparison between the BCGC and financial watchdog the Bermuda Monetary Authority was invalid.
She added: “The defined and restricted powers of the Minister of Finance in relation to firing directors of the BMA pursuant to its governing legislation, is completely different to the Minister's proposed broad, unrestricted powers in relation to firing the chairman and commissioners under the provisions of the Casino Gaming Act.
“Simply put, the commission is not independent of governmental interference when the minister can fire any commissioner without cause at any time.
“The bottom line is that the minister has taken a knife and directly pierced the heart and future of gaming in Bermuda.”