MPs approve new rules for casino fees
Casino fees could be waived or deferred in exceptional circumstances in amended regulations approved by the House of Assembly.
David Burt, the Premier, explained that hurricanes and public health emergencies were included in the scenarios that might allow payments to be postponed.
The Casino Gaming (Casino Fees) Amendment Regulations 2020 would also change provisions for funds earmarked for training in the industry and dealing with problem gambling.
Mr Burt told MPs that the original regulations were made in March 2017.
He said on Friday: “Honourable Members will recall that the regulations call for a casino licence application fee of $600,000, a provisional licence issue fee of $1.4 million and a licence fee of $1 million.
“That's $3 million payable before the first dice are rolled or a card is dealt.”
The Premier said that “such onerous financial requirements” were likely made to discourage “fly-by-night operations”; to support regulatory functions and operations of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission; and to “provide the financial support for training for Bermudians entering the gaming industry and critical support to the Problem Gaming Council”.
He explained that the existing regulations did not cover the option to “consider economic changes which would impact the ability of an investor or prospective casino operator” to pay the fees, but that the amendments included that.
Mr Burt said that the rules would allow the minister responsible for gaming to waive or defer payment of a fee in its entirety or in part for a set period in exceptional circumstances.
He added that these included a state of emergency, a public health emergency, “or in the event of hurricanes or an event which significantly and negatively impacts a sector of the economy or the community in Bermuda”.
The Premier said: “In this pandemic recovery period, Bermuda will distinguish itself in a crowded marketplace clamouring for investment by demonstrating flexibility and speed.
“We must anticipate the needs of investors and do what we can to keep existing investors at the table.
“We must also inspire confidence in those who are looking to invest in Bermuda.”
Mr Burt added that the amendment was “the kind of clear signal that we are determined to send that we are open and accessible, reasonable and determined to fulfil our mandate to the people of Bermuda using our best efforts”.
Scott Pearman, of the One Bermuda Alliance, told the House: “The fees that were provided for did not go merely to the Government.”
He said: “In respect of addiction issues, the previous regulations were going to provide $150,000 out of the provisional licence issue fee.”
He added: “That's now changing to 10 per cent and perhaps it's proportionate, but it is a reduction, so by reason of the change, if the fee stays the same the amount of money being given to help treat those with gambling addiction issues will be going down.
“Likewise, the amount that was allocated to train Bermudians for employment in casinos — $250,000 under the previous regulations — is now being adjusted to 15 per cent of the fee.
“The fee, as we remember if it stays the same, was $1.4 million so that too is going down; it's going down from a fixed fee of $250,000 to a reduction, to $210,000 if the fee stays the same.”
Mr Pearman explained: “Another change that's important for these regulations is that the fee might not stay the same, so not only might the money allocated for addiction issues and to employ Bermudians go down, but it could also go down drastically now because ... we're now going to have a percentage adjustment based on the fee, and this Bill allows that fee to be waived in whole or in part.”
Mr Burt, in response to questions and comments from members of the Opposition about the status of gaming in Bermuda, said there would be a chance to debate the topic before the House of Assembly rises for summer.
He added: “At the next day of sitting [on July 17], I will table amendments to the Casino Gaming Act and I will be happy to have the full gamut of a gaming discussion at that time.”
The Premier indicated that he would “give the country a full update on where we stand in regards to our progress on casino gaming”.