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Opposition accuses Premier of ‘playing games’ on casinos

Shadow finance minister Douglas De Couto

Shadow finance minister Douglas De Couto has accused David Burt of “playing games” with the public on casinos, after the exact six-figure salaries of the Bermuda Gaming Commission’s executives were revealed.

The Opposition senator questioned whether there was any benefit to continued spending on the regulatory body, which has cost taxpayers more than $16 million since it was formed, and said the Premier had failed to live up to his word about the opening of the island’s first casino.

He spoke out after The Royal Gazette reported on figures obtained through public access to information showing the commission’s chief executive, legal director and director of finance and human resources earn almost $50,000 a month between them.

“Yet again we have broken promises from Premier David Burt,” Dr De Couto said. “And yet again there are financial consequences for Bermudians.”

A government spokeswoman responded that the commission’s operations had been “streamlined considerably” and some employees had been made redundant as a result.

She added: “The commission’s remit involves more than casinos and the commission has been charged with a mandate to examine and explore other revenue sources, while still preparing for the eventual introduction of casinos to Bermuda.”

Jump starting the casino industry was a major plank of the Progressive Labour Party’s 2020 election platform, but Mr Burt’s repeated assurances throughout 2021 that Bermuda’s first casino would open that year were not borne out.

Dr De Couto said last week: “Remember, our Premier was making this promise in 2021 after the PLP had already been the government for some five years.

“Yet the year came and went without any casino. Two further years dragged on without any discernible progress on gaming. Premier Burt’s government continues to be long on promises and short on delivery.”

Dr De Couto predicted during a March 2023 debate in the Senate that the Government would have to pay off a guarantee of almost $10 million for the gaming commission; Mr Burt confirmed that was the case in his Budget statement in February.

Dr De Couto accused the Government of having “raided from the sinking fund, a fund reserved to pay down Bermuda’s borrowed debt” in order to pay the $9.7 million to Butterfield Bank, after the latter withdrew its willingness to provide credit to the BGC.

He added: “The OBA also warned Bermudians that we faced a clear choice on gaming: either shut down the commission or make the changes required for gaming to happen.

“The PLP has done neither, so the spending continues. Bermudians might fairly ask: what exactly are we paying for?”

There has no visible progress in recent years on getting a casino to open here, with business sources claiming that island banks have been unable to get their correspondent banks in the United States to agree to them handling casino transactions because of concerns the commission is insufficiently independent of government.

The Premier denied that in March, telling Parliament that it was seen as a good thing that the gaming sector fell under his purview as finance minister.

“When having direct conversations with our overseas partners, who are the ones with the correspondent banking relationships, they said that this was regarded as a strength of our regulatory regime, and they thought that it made it more sound, not less sound, as it would give additional impetus to ensure that the standards of the regulator were upheld at the highest level,” he said.

Dr De Couto said there was a solution to kick-start the gaming sector which was “not complicated” but would require a change to the legislation governing the commission.

“Any objective observer will tell you, and several already have, that casino gaming will not happen in Bermuda until there is confidence that our casino and regulatory operations are fully independent from elected officials,” he said.

“Until then, the only games in Bermuda are those being played by our Premier.”

The government spokeswoman said: “The commission has worked with the Government to seek other options to invest gaming proceeds, since Butterfield Bank withdrew their support to bank the proceeds of gaming.

“The Government has been assured that this was a local bank decision and has nothing to do with correspondent banking, and has been assured that Bermuda’s regulatory regime is sound.”

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Published June 10, 2024 at 7:57 am (Updated June 10, 2024 at 7:57 am)

Opposition accuses Premier of ‘playing games’ on casinos

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