Gaming legislation is approved
A piece of casino gaming legislation was approved in the Senate yesterday morning, despite concerns over the high initial cost for prospective operators.
While Government and independent senators voted in favour of the Casino Gaming (Casino Fees) Regulations 2017, the three Progressive Labour Party senators voted against them.
However, Senator Michael Fahy, the minister responsible for tourism, said the Casino Gaming (General Reserve and Casino Taxes) Regulations 2017 would be withdrawn, amended and return to the House of Assembly before debate on it could begin, citing a need to sort out a “minor error” that had been discovered.
Explaining the casino fees regulations, Mr Fahy said that the fee structure and 10 per cent tax rate established in the regulations were in accord with the goals of the 2014 Casino Gaming Act. The fee schedule sets the casino licence application fee at $600,000 and the provisional licence issue fee at $1.4 million. Under the regulations a casino licence issue is set at $1 million, while an annual casino licence fee is $1 million, “less any applicable discount”.
The regulations state: “The schedule sets out the fees payable, which are in addition to any requirement to reimburse the Commission for the costs of any investigation pursuant to the Act of any regulations”.
The fees came under harsh fire in the House of Assembly with both OBA MP Mark Pettingill and independent MP Shawn Crockwell saying the fees were too high and would prevent casinos operators from considering Bermuda as a potential destination.
Speaker of the House Randy Horton himself cast the deciding ballot allowing the regulations to pass in the House after the vote ended in a 17-17 stalemate.
As the debate began in the Senate, PLP Senator Kim Wilkerson questioned the fees compared to jurisdictions such as the Bahamas where costs are much lower than Massachusetts or Singapore, which were mentioned in the minister's brief.
While she said the fees in the Bahamas were spread along a much longer schedule, she added: “I don't see how any of these fees in the Bahamas get to the point of our $3 million as a starting point.”
Ms Wilkerson also questioned the level of consultation on the proposed fee structure and the training opportunities for Bermudians.
“What we would not want to see is a situation like the fibre optic cable where the casinos open and we have a flood of foreign workers because Bermudians have not yet been trained,” she said.
“I would like to see the language clarified to specify that the training is for Bermudians.”
Responding to questions, Mr Fahy said the Gaming Commission had not consulted gaming operators specifically about the fee structure, but that the information has been in the public for three months and Government had not heard of any push back until the fees were debated in the House of Assembly.
He explained that while Grant Gibbons had told the House that the commission had consulted with 12 to 15 operators, that consultation was related to the possibility of operating on the island, not specifically fees.
Mr Fahy, however, said the fee structure was designed to fully fund the regulatory scheme without leaving the Gaming Commission needing to dip into the consolidated fund in order to operate.