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Secrecy surrounds gambling watchdog

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Cheryl-Ann Mapp, chairwoman of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission

The island’s gambling regulator has refused to release details about its finances and played its cards close to its chest on other documents in its possession.

The Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission stonewalled a request from The Royal Gazette to release details of its income and expenditure for the last two financial years under the Public Access to Information Act.

The taxpayer-funded commission rejected the request and claimed records of its finances were exempted from disclosure because they contained information “given by a third party in confidence, on the understanding that it would be treated as confidential”.

The BCGC also refused to give details of how much it spent on a successful legal bid to silence Richard Schuetz, the commission’s former executive director, after he resigned.

Mr Schuetz said at the time he feared that Bermuda would “prove incapable of keeping people with questionable backgrounds and behaviours away from” the island’s gambling industry. The decision to withhold the information requested, appealed to Cheryl-Ann Mapp, the BCGC chairwoman, means taxpayers have no up-to-date information on how the commission has spent the millions of dollars it has been given over four years.

The regulator, whose office is on Church Street, has been given at least $5.4 million of taxpayers’ cash since it was set up in 2015. The BCGC was handed $1.3 million in its first year and a further $2.5 million in the 2016-17 financial year.

Nothing was budgeted for 2017-18, but soon after winning power in the July 2017 General Election, David Burt, the Premier, revealed that the public would have to cough up $1.6 million in operational expenses that year.

The commission was again allocated no money in this year’s Budget. Questions to the Government about whether it is likely to receive public funding in 2018-19 were not answered by press time.

The BCGC is expected, in time, to be funded entirely by fees for casino licences, as operators will pay $600,000 to apply and then $1.4 million if they are awarded a provisional licence.

Operators who make it through to the final stage will have to pay a further $1 million casino licence issue fee.

Several hotels have made an initial application, but only one — Hamilton Princess & Beach Club — is known to have been granted a provisional licence, and critics have questioned why the island’s fledgeling casino industry is taking so long to get up and running.

Ms Mapp replaced former chairman Alan Dunch in November 2017.

Mr Dunch resigned after the Government tabled legislation to oust him and place BCGC under ministerial control.

The commission has had no executive director since Mr Schuetz left the island in December 2017 and his six-figure salary post is understood to have been advertised at least three times since then.

The Royal Gazette’s Pati request asked for:

• Details of the commission’s income and expenditure for 2017-18 and 2018-19 to date

• The total amount spent on legal fees for the civil case against Mr Schuetz

• Any and all memorandums of understanding that the commission has or has had with outside agencies and details of any that have been terminated

• Details of any agreements the commission has with the United Kingdom Gambling Commission

• The consultancy agreement BCGC has with George Rover, the former deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement

The commission’s information officer said details of spending on the civil action against Mr Schuetz were exempted from disclosure because they could affect the commercial interests “of any person to whom the information relates” and could prejudice contract or other negotiations.

The commission was represented by Joseph Giret QC, then with Hamilton-based legal firm Wakefield Quin.

The BCGC official said the record with the amount spent on legal fees was given to the BCGC by the law firm “in confidence on the understanding that it would be treated as confidential”.

The official added that all the other records requested were exempted as they contained information given to the commission in confidence.

Ms Mapp has until January 22 to decide if BCGC was right to withhold the records.

If she upholds the refusal, The Royal Gazette can apply to the island’s independent information commissioner for a review.

The BCGC has also rejected earlier requests from The Royal Gazette for the minutes of its meetings and communications it had with the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee.

It also failed to disclose records it held about Bermuda’s betting shops and insisted the information formed part of deliberations involving the commission and the Government.

The BCGC, under the Casino Gaming Act 2014, has to submit its audited financial statements and accounts to the Government every year so they can be tabled in Parliament.

A spokesman for the House of Assembly said last night that it appeared that no BCGC financial statements had been tabled.

A spokeswoman for Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, who is responsible for the gambling industry, said: “The BCGC, like all other public authorities, are required to present their financial statements to the legislature after the statements have been audited.

“It would be inappropriate for the ministry to comment on a specific public access to information request as this matter would be addressed in accordance with the provisions of the Public Access to Information Act.”

To view the Pati decisions in relation to the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”

Richard Schuetz, former executive director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission
Curtis Dickinson