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Revised casino legislation passed

Running the gauntlet: Shawn Crockwell and Mark Pettingill, both MPs and lawyers, dodge protesters outside the House of Assembly yesterday. About ten members of Move (Mobilise Organise Visualise Execute) were holding placards on the grounds of Sessions House as MPs began a day of debating(Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Revisions to Bermuda’s gaming laws were approved by MPs in the House of Assembly last night, paving the way for casinos in Bermuda.

The Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2016 was passed with no objections after a fiery debate lasting more than four hours, while Casino Gaming Designation Site Orders for the St Regis Hotel in St George’s and the Hamilton Princess were also approved.

The Act faced harsh criticism in Parliament from the One Bermuda Alliance’s own ranks as well as Opposition MPs.

A two-year exclusion for any public officer involved in gaming from business in the new industry was denounced as a superfluous restraint of trade, with MPs calling it unnecessary given the anti-bribery legislation already in place.

Economic development minister Grant Gibbons launched the debate, in which the 2014 gaming act was “streamlined” with provisions to address issues such as problem gaming.

But a clause granting a provisional casino licence to Desarrollos Group, developers of the upcoming St Regis hotel for St George’s, proved unpopular.

Such licences did not permit gaming, Dr Gibbons said — but merely confirmed an applicant as eligible for a full licence, enough to start construction.

E-gaming, a category separate from internet gaming, would be open to guests in specific areas via their mobile devices — and the Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2016 would also allow betting.

Opposition deputy leader Walter Roban opened the Progressive Labour Party’s response, calling it “a cleanup Bill for the first Bill” and criticising the Government for the expensive “ministerial misadventure” in Singapore to create the 2014 Act.

Mr Roban also queried whether Cabinet had circumvented the gaming commission in the exception for the East End developer. PLP MP Wayne Furbert echoed both points, asking the House why the Morgan’s Point developers were left off.

Shawn Crockwell, the former tourism minister and now independent MP, chastised the lack of “real leadership” in the gaming delay.

Noting that the America’s Cup would miss out, Mr Crockwell asked repeatedly why it had taken so long.

Both Mr Crockwell and OBA backbencher Mark Pettingill excoriated clause 187, which carried the two-year business ban.

Mr Crockwell questioned its timing, telling the House he had never seen it among amendments that came across his desk during his time as minister.

Describing himself as “the only lawyer in this country who is a member of the international association of gaming advisers”, Mr Pettingill called the restriction “jaw-dropping”.

“Tomorrow, former minister Crockwell has to call our clients and say ‘we can’t work for you any more’,” Mr Pettingill told the House. Both disaffected MPs added that the Bill would require their reluctant support if gaming was to go ahead.

Another consistent complaint from MPs was that Desarrollos had been given special treatment simply to keep the St George’s resort deal alive.

Opposition leader David Burt questioned “what research has Government done to make sure this person is fit to get a gaming licence?”

“What work has been done to make sure that this decision will not come back to bite us?” Mr Burt asked, adding: “This is about keeping Desarrollos at the table.

“We have to think very, very carefully about what granting a provisional licence to Desarrollos means.

“This Bill is certainly needed and we want the gaming industry to get off the ground, but it is certainly clear this is a troubling development and it should concern all parties.

“If we set this precedent today, every developer is going to ask for the same thing — and they would be well within their rights to demand it.”

• This article was amended at 9.45am to say that the Bill passed with no objections.