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House: travel bill of $50,000 questioned

Opposition MPs have voiced scepticism in the House of Assembly over a $50,000 travel budget run up the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.

Junior tourism minister Kenneth Bascome faced a grilling from the Progressive Labour Party, with the St George's North MP reminding Parliament that he remains new to the job. Mr Bascome's appointment was announced as part of a Cabinet shuffle on May 13.

MPs on Friday queried the travel figures in connection with Richard Schuetz, executive director of the commission, as well as the courting of the Las Vegas giant Caesars Palace, as the island seeks to develop its own industry.

According to sources close to the commission, the soliciting of Caesars has raised eyebrows locally, given its highly public bankruptcy struggles.

In answer to Zane DeSilva of the PLP, Mr Bascome told legislators that the commission has spent $49,658 on travel since its inception, with $23,926 on air travel, and accommodation accounting for $21,227. Meals and ground transport covered the remainder.

Mr DeSilva noted the “vast experience in the industry” brought by Mr Schuetz, who joined the commission in September 2015, having served previously as commissioner for the California Gaming Control Commission.

“Why has he had such a more expensive travel schedule than necessary?”

Mr DeSilva also queried why Mr Schuetz “invited Caesars to Bermuda to set up business”, with Opposition MP Rolfe Commissiong flagging up Mr Schuetz's extensive background in the Las Vegas-based industries.

“Does that not invoke potential conflicts of interest, bearing in mind that Caesars has been invited to look at the Bermuda market?”

PLP MP Derrick Burgess also asked if Mr Bascome was aware that the Caesars team had included Mr Schuetz's wife.

Mr Bascome repeatedly told the House he could not answer the questions with authority, but pledged to bring the details to Parliament.

“As I grow into this position, those honourable members will be aware, and have all the answers they are seeking,” he said, stressing he had not been involved in “any in-depth discussion” — and that there had been limited opportunity to consult with technical officers before fielding parliamentary questions.

Asked when casino training would commence for Bermudians, the junior minister said an ad hoc committee was in place, with members including Duranda Greene, president of the Bermuda College, and vice president of academic and student affairs Mark Van Den Hende, as well as Malika Cartwright of the Bermuda Hospitality Institute, with Julia Grant, Judith Hall-Bean and Mr Schuetz.

Training for Bermudians will be drawn from a fee on would-be casino operators, to be included in regulations to the 2014 Act that would be brought to the House “as soon as practically possible”.

No numbers for Bermudians required have been set thus far, but “our fellow Bermudians will be given first preference for jobs” — and Mr Bascome told Parliament that he did not feel the continued absence of regulations caused the island any reputational risk.

Travel costs: Richard Schuetz, the executive director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission (File photograph)

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Published June 27, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 27, 2016 at 7:59 am)

House: travel bill of $50,000 questioned

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