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Brannon calls for ‘urgent action’ as Government looks at possible referendum on gambling

Government is considering giving residents the chance to have their say on gambling because they “haven’t got the bottle” to make the controversial decision.

This is the view of tourism veteran Tony Brannon who believes “urgent action has to be taken” before it’s too late to save our “wounded tourism industry”.

Mr Brannon spoke out about the need to quickly legalise gambling, after yesterday’s Throne Speech stated: “a further option is consideration of a referendum on whether Bermuda should allow gaming”.

The possible referendum was given a mere one-line mention, but Ms Cox later said the Island needed to look at new ways to raise cash in the economic downturn.

She said “people seem mixed” about gambling, but it is understood that public support could pave the way for a casino to be included in the Hamilton waterfront development.

The blueprint for Government suggested a gaming referendum and a waterfront development among a raft of initiatives to tackle the struggling tourism industry.

But Mr Brannon said: “As far as gaming is concerned, we need immediate action.

“This has been going on for years and now a referendum is being suggested as Government doesn’t have the bottle to decide.

“But how much longer are we going to have to wait? Time is not on our side. Our hotels are suffering and our tourism industry has been seriously wounded. By the time a decision is made, it could be too late.

“Government is delaying things rather than addressing the issue. They are just time-wasting when they need to make it happen.”

The former Tourism Board member added: “Government isn’t advocating leadership by throwing it to the people. They have to use their power to draw up the legalisation.”

In July 2009 Premier Ewart Brown’s gaming bill failed with seven Progressive Labour Party MPs voting against it. Dr Brown shocked the House of Assembly by attempting to push the legislation through without rebel or Opposition MPs knowing but his plan backfired as the bill went down 18 votes to 11.

Then in May 2010, 24 out of 32 MPs spoke out against a Green Paper on Gaming telling Dr Brown to drop the idea as there were more pressing issues to deal with.

With the possibility of a referendum looming, the Church has once again made clear its opposition to gambling. It comes after a fellowship of 80 pastors and leaders from over 70 churches formed United for Change before gambling was discussed in the House of Assembly last year.

Reverend Nick Dill, who is part of United for Change, said: “My position is the same as before, nothing has changed. Bermuda has enough social problems as it is without adding another layer.”

Mr Brannon called on Government to “make some bold declarations” and set up an independent Tourism Authority to run the industry as a business.

But there was no mention a Tourism Authority in The Throne Speech, instead it indicated that the Department of Tourism would be reintroducing the once popular college weeks.

The Throne Speech, which marks the reconvening of Parliament, also highlighted the launch of a new tourism brand, the start of a programme of corporate games and a scheme to tempt cruise visitors to book hotel stays.

It stated that these were “the industry’s immediate needs” while Bermuda’s long-term National Tourism Plan was being developed.

Government is also working to develop Hamilton’s waterfront “in a manner that preserves its stunning beauty while creating a dynamic new hub for business and entertainment”.

The “centrepiece development” aims to transform the waterfront and generate jobs. It will be a public-private partnership and Government has set up a steering group to “drive forward this exciting project”.

Mr Brannon supported the need for a waterfront development, but said it needed to include a convention centre and a performing arts centre.

He said: “It’s a good idea that is long-overdue. But talk is cheap, so far the only waterfront development we have seen is a new yellow toilet opposite HSBC”.

The Throne Speech also highlighted the need to improve Bermuda’s nightlife, saying: “More must be done to promote local entertainment.”

It reads: “A signature entertainment product is being developed that will headline Bermudian entertainers and provide them with work, especially in hotels where hiring Bermudians is a precondition for securing concessions from Government.”

The Department of Tourism is also planning to work with cruise directors, cruise operators and entertainment promoters to increase the Island’s activities and events.

Sir Richard Gozney delivered The Throne Speech saying: “There has also been a constant refrain that there are not enough activities in Bermuda to occupy our visiting guests”.

Mr Brannon, who is an entertainer himself, supports the idea of more live entertainment by Bermudians artists.

But he suggests it will only work if cruise ship shows are banned when in port and fast-ferries between Dockyard and Hamilton continue after 8pm.

Mr Brannon would also like to see “a tax-free zone for the arts” to provide financial relief for struggling artists.

The Throne Speech also stated that Government could forge new links with Emirates Airlines to connect Bermuda to the “dynamic and wealthy” Middle East, including Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar.

Government is also planning to “update and modernise” the Hotel Concessions Act to keep Bermudians in the picture for jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Sir Richard also said: “The unrivalled beauty of these islands is a special gift of which every Bermudian is justly proud.

“It is a gift shared with thousands of visitors each year, one which helps provide a livelihood for Bermudians and guest workers.”

Government is considering a referendum on gaming.

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Published November 05, 2011 at 8:00 am (Updated November 05, 2011 at 8:54 am)

Brannon calls for ‘urgent action’ as Government looks at possible referendum on gambling

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