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Independent senator criticises new gaming legislation

The Senate has approved new legislation regarding the gaming sector in Bermuda (File Photograph)

An independent senator yesterday criticised controversial Government gaming law reforms, insisting they did not support “Bermuda’s pristine image as a desirable jurisdiction”.

John Wight, the former chairman of BF&M, was joined by One Bermuda Alliance senators in expressing concern about the Gaming Amendment Act 2023 because the Bermuda Gaming Commission did not look independent – because it had to take direction from the finance minister.

Mr Wight told fellow senators: “When the issue of gaming in Bermuda first started being discussed many years ago, my recollection is that the community was largely divided.

“Many considered casino operations to be a good thing for Bermuda. There are many people based in Bermuda’s gateway cities, particularly the US north east, who enjoy gambling.

“Others in our community viewed casinos as not being in keeping with the clean reputation of Bermuda.

“Whichever view you have of casinos in Bermuda, in my view, if it is to become part of Bermuda’s future it must be done appropriately.

“When it comes to gaming, the framework in my view must be one that ensures integrity and independence, both in fact and appearance.

“Rather than having an authority of independent individuals which was the regime many years ago, free from any apparent influence or bias, this Bill presented to the Senate which has a gaming commission reporting directly to the Minister of Finance, regrettably, does not meet my definition of a strong and independent framework that supports Bermuda’s pristine image as a desirable jurisdiction.”

Douglas De Couto, the One Bermuda Alliance tourism spokesman in the Upper Chamber, said the Opposition supported a gaming industry but the Government had a history of “interfering” with the BGC.

He said: “Political interference remains, and is, a major concern around gaming in Bermuda.

“It is not just what the laws are it is how the Government proceeds to exercise those laws, and whether or not it does attempt to exercise influence.

“This government has a track record of trying to avoid accountability, of trying to remove institutions, or bodies that are supposed to provide alternate viewpoints, or flat out ignoring them.”

Owen Darrell, the Government Senate Leader, attacked the Opposition’s claims.

He said that by expressly stating that gaming would come under the remit of the finance minister, the Government was moving into line with recommendations from a local bank on creating a successful gaming industry.

He said the situation with the BGC was similar to that of the Bermuda Monetary Authority.

Mr Darrell said the creation of casinos, which would now be based on a more flexible model of gambling hubs than envisioned previously, would create jobs and boost tourism to the island.

He said: “The law must be amended to permit potential casino operators to choose the model that best suits the intended venue for their casino.

“Likewise, the law must be amended to permit the gaming commission the flexibility to consider and grant licences on that basis.”

He added: “Diversifying Bermuda’s economy through the generation of new industries remains a key goal for the economic recovery plan.”

The Senate passed the legislation.

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Published March 28, 2023 at 5:36 am (Updated March 28, 2023 at 5:38 am)

Independent senator criticises new gaming legislation

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