Crockwell warned of casino delays
Former tourism minister Shawn Crockwell warned gaming chief Alan Dunch that casinos would be “delayed” until the One Bermuda Alliance was out of power.
The late MP made the statement in an e-mail he sent to Mr Dunch, chairman of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, less than two weeks after quitting the One Bermuda Alliance in July 2016.
Mr Crockwell, who publicly complained about the “sluggish” progress made in establishing the island's first casino, did not explain why there would be a delay while the OBA remained in government in his message to Mr Dunch, a friend and former law firm colleague and mentor.
The e-mail, leaked to The Royal Gazette, was sent to Mr Dunch after the commission chairman publicly compared the cost of two taxpayer-funded trips — one taken to Las Vegas by Mr Dunch and Richard Schuetz, the commission's executive director, for $6,500 and the $46,000-plus bill for a trip to Singapore by Mr Crockwell and Cabinet colleague Mark Pettingill.
On July 15 last year, Mr Crockwell wrote: “So you are comparing flights to Vegas with flights to Singapore? I guess it is inevitable that I and Mark get dragged into this which ultimately will not end well for us as a jurisdiction.
“Casinos will be delayed until the next government, which will not be the OBA.”
When Mr Crockwell quit the OBA in July last year, he told Parliament it was because the Government had targeted his business and personal life after he'd resigned from the Cabinet five months before.
His e-mail to Mr Dunch gives further insight into how disengaged he felt from the party he helped to found and his view of its chances of retaining power.
There are questions about why the newly independent MP felt casinos would not happen under the OBA or why he believed things would “not end well” for the island in relation to gaming.
The Royal Gazette revealed in a special report last month that Mr Crockwell, while tourism minister, convinced the Cabinet to enter into an agreement designed to ensure island firm MM&I Holdings secured a lucrative contract to provide a networked gaming system for casinos.
The deal would have given the firm a monopoly and was expected to earn it tens of millions of dollars a year.
The agreement between the Government and MM&I was signed by Mr Crockwell and witnessed by Attorney-General Mr Pettingill.
After the pair quit Cabinet, their law firm went on to represent MM&I.
Mr Crockwell sent his e-mail to Mr Dunch a month after the commission chairman told MM&I that the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission had “no intention” of including anything in its regulatory package to mandate a centralised networked gaming system for casinos or make the company the provider of such a system.
Mr Dunch told MM&I director John Tartaglia he took on the chairmanship “premised on the fact that I had sought and obtained an assurance from the Government that no prior commitments had been made to anyone in connection with the development of the gaming industry in Bermuda”.
Three days after Mr Crockwell wrote his e-mail to Mr Dunch, the Government's agreement with MM&I was terminated by new tourism minister Michael Fahy, on the advice of Mr Schuetz.
Mr Crockwell was aware that gaming commission regulations to get the casino industry up and running needed the approval of Parliament — and he made two attempts as an independent MP to prevent that from happening.
One such set of regulations landed on his desk while he was still Minister of Tourism — but he resigned from Cabinet days before he was due to share them with fellow ministers.
They were not tabled in the House of Assembly for another eight months and by then anti-corruption measures and criteria for the dismissal of a commissioner had been included.
The anti-corruption measures prevented former Cabinet ministers from working in the gaming industry for two years after leaving their posts.
The regulations were approved by MPs in November last year, despite objections from Mr Crockwell and Mr Pettingill.
A further set of regulations, which introduced fees for casino licence applications, went before the House of Assembly in February this year. Mr Crockwell and Mr Pettingill criticised the fees as too high, as did Progressive Labour MP Zane DeSilva.
A report in The Royal Gazette said Mr DeSilva urged the Government to withdraw the regulations, axe the gaming commission and listen to Mr Pettingill.
David Burt, then Opposition leader and now Premier, added the regulations should be withdrawn until they could be supported by the House.
But a majority of the House approved the regulations, with a deciding vote by Speaker Randy Horton. Independent Mr Crockwell voted against them, along with PLP MPs, while Mr Pettingill, still an OBA backbencher, abstained.
When the OBA government faced a vote of no confidence tabled by Mr Burt in the House in June, Mr Crockwell told The Royal Gazette he would vote with the PLP against his former party.
The vote of no confidence was avoided after a General Election was called.
Mr Crockwell's body was found at his home two days later and the authorities have not made the cause of death public, although they said it was not suspicious.
The politician's prediction that the OBA would lose power proved correct and the PLP won the election by a huge majority on July 18.
Mr Dunch could not be reached for comment yesterday.
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Casino debate in the House
Quotes from the House of Assembly debate on casino licence fees, February 3, 2017
Independent MP and former tourism minister Shawn Crockwell said: “I am glad to see that we are still progressing the legislative structure, albeit at a sluggish pace, but we are moving forward to get this industry up and going.”
He claimed the original vision to bring amenity casinos to Bermuda had been “hijacked” by the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.
Mr Crockwell said: “That is wrong, We went from amenity casinos we can regulate and control without any problem to what appears to be some grand casino jurisdiction.
“That is not how we started out and that is not what we can achieve. We are going down the wrong path and we are going to be here next year having the same debate, which would be a disservice to this community. We are mucking about with this issue.”
He added: “I did not dream that we would not even be close to opening our first casino in 2017. I did not dream that. It was always the ambition that we would have one up and running by the summer of 2017. And we are not even close. So something has broken down, something is wrong.”
One Bermuda Alliance backbencher and former attorney-general Mark Pettingill attacked the gaming commission for its slowness in bringing gaming to the island.
He said: “We needed to get it up and running. We spent significant time and energy in getting the initial legislation together and it was entirely workable.
“The public campaigning by the commission and the lack of progress do not sit well with me.”
He added: “We are not reinventing the wheel — we are just doing it in Bermuda. And there is nothing glaringly special about that. It is just a smaller scale. And one would think on a smaller scale, as it must be, it would be quicker. It would be that much easier to do. And the Government has wanted to do that.
“What has gotten in its way? It has to deal with the commission who says, ‘Oh no, we have to do this, we have to do that'.”
Progressive Labour Party MP Zane DeSilva said: “If the OBA government and their back bench, their ministers, who are the persons who control the purse strings in this country, if you really want to try to put our people to work and you want to try and get this particular amenity moving for our tourism product, I think what you need to do is ... that commission you have, I think you should get rid of them.
“And what you should do is consult with your own member of Parliament, Mr Mark Pettingill, and the independent member, Shawn Crockwell, who know this legislation inside out.
“We have certainly spent enough money educating them, right? We have certainly done that. I would suggest tonight that this is one of the things, that is the first thing you should do — withdraw it — because that fee in particular is just ... it is a non-starter.”
Opposition leader David Burt said: “I would ask ... if the Government would consider withdrawing these regulations, going back to their caucus and consult, and come back next week with something that can be supported, because if a member on their side [Mr Pettingill] has spoken out against it, that means they do not have majority support of the members of this House.
“And if these regulations fail, then they have to come back and do it again; it will be a longer time process. We do not need that.”