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MP wants answers over casino operator link

An Opposition MP is urging the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission to disclose full details about an alleged visit to the island by struggling Las Vegas-based casino operator Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

Zane DeSilva, former Minister of Tourism, said the public had a right to know whether the commission invited representatives from Caesars to visit the island and whether the ex-wife of the commission's executive director Richard Schuetz was a member of the Vegas delegation.

He also questioned whether Mr Schuetz and commission chairman Alan Dunch travelled to Vegas beforehand and said they ought to share information on who covered the costs for that trip.

Mr Schuetz told The Royal Gazette yesterday he would not be able to answer questions on the subject from this newspaper until next week, when commission chairman Alan Dunch would be back on island.

Mr DeSilva said he was concerned both about potential conflicts of interest and about whether the commission was overstepping its statutory duties in inviting casino representatives to Bermuda.

“They need to answer some of these questions,” said the Progressive Labour Party politician. “Are these [Caesars] the people we expect the regulator to regulate? If these folks came to Bermuda and his ex-wife was on the team, did he tell the government or the [tourism] minister that this was his ex-wife?

“Did he and Alan Dunch go to Vegas? Did they go to Caesars? What was the nature of these visits?”

Caesars Entertainment Corp was fined $9.5 million last year for violating federal money-laundering rules at Caesars Palace in Vegas. It has recently been reported that it is in bankruptcy talks.

Mr DeSilva, a proponent of gaming on the island, said issues like that “raised a red flag” about who would ultimately be running the casinos here.

In the House of Assembly on Friday, junior tourism minister Kenneth Bascome orally answered parliamentary questions from Mr DeSilva on the commission's travel spending, training plan for Bermudians and legislative timeframe.

The queries prompted further questions from MPs, with Mr DeSilva asking why Mr Schuetz “invited Caesars to Bermuda to set up business” and PLP colleague 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?” asked Mr Commissiong.

Mr Bascome provided an overall figure for travel expenditure by the commission of almost $50,000 since October last year. He repeatedly said he could not answer the questions with authority, but pledged to bring the details to Parliament.

Mr DeSilva said he was deeply dissatisfied with the responses given by Mr Bascome, claiming: “It was a disgrace to parliamentary procedures. You get asked parliamentary questions seven, eight or nine days in advance so your job, as minister, is to do due diligence and get the answers.

“You [also] have to be ready as a minister for supplementary questions. Kenny Bascome was asked for his personal opinion; he couldn't give it. Really, it's poor. I'm expecting a junior ministerial statement from him [tomorrow in the House].”

Mr Schuetz's ex-wife is Jan Laverty Jones, also known as Jan Jones Blackhurst, a former mayor of Las Vegas and now senior vice-president of communications and government affairs with Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

In response to questions from this newspaper, Mr Schuetz said yesterday: “We are more than happy to discuss these issues when Alan gets back on the island next week.”

The Casino Gaming Commission began work on October 1 last year and is tasked with issuing licences for casinos and regulating the gaming industry in Bermuda.

Mr Dunch told ZBM News this week: “I would like to think we will have a casino operating by the end of next year but it's a stretch.”

Mr DeSilva criticised that timeframe, asking what was causing the delay.

It was not possible to reach Mr Dunch.

Disclosure call: the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission's office on Church Street, Hamilton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 30, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 30, 2016 at 7:49 am)

MP wants answers over casino operator link

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