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New BCGC head bets on Burt’s prediction

Jean Major, the chief executive of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission (File photograph)

A prediction by the Premier that the island’s first casino will open this year was backed by the chief executive of the island’s gambling watchdog.

Jean Major added that regulators are carrying out the mandated checks on an application from Hotelco, the company behind the St Regis hotel development.

He said: “We have received the required disclosure from the applicant and, while more may be required, we have initiated the due diligence review.

“It’s fairly extensive but we have been working very cooperatively with the principals at Hotelco to get across the line.

“Their operator is the Marriott and they have quite a bit of work to do still, to do all the things that we need to approve the casino.”

Mr Major, the chief executive of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, added: “Assuming that the due diligence review doesn’t uncover any significant issues – and at this stage I have no reason to believe that there will be, but we have to do our due diligence – then it’s quite doable that we will have a casino in 2021.”

David Burt, the Premier, said last month that he expected “at least one casino” to start operations this year.

Mr Major highlighted that the St Regis, in St George’s, and the Hamilton Princess had provisional licences but were at “slightly different stages in the process”.

A reluctance by traditional banks to handle profits from gambling has been a problem in getting the industry off the ground.

But the Progressive Labour Party’s 2020 General Election platform included a pledge to help rebuild tourism by “finally launching our casino industry, supported by the Bermuda National Digital Bank”.

The Government said in its Throne Speech after the PLP’s landslide that Parliamentarians would be asked in this session to consider legislation to set up the new bank.

Mr Major said that although he was “familiar with some of the issues” with banks, it was for them and the casino operators to resolve.

He added: “The commission’s mandate is to issue casino licences – that includes the key employees that will work at the casino, the shareholders, the whole ownership structure.”

Mr Major said that checks covered the “honesty and integrity” of the people involved, financial responsibility and the casino operator’s governance and internal controls.

The former chief executive officer of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario added that the due diligence involved in gambling was “probably much more comprehensive” than in other industries.

He said out that the regulations set out for casino operation in Bermuda were “more prescriptive” than the rules in Ontario.

But Mr Major added that it was not unusual for a jurisdiction to take a rigid approach at the start of the industry and become more flexible as the industry evolved.

He said: “It’s a degree of comfort.

“It’s important to establish a very healthy compliance culture.

“Once everyone knows what the expectations are, there is a rhythm that develops between the operator and the regulator.”

Alan Dunch, the gaming commission’s former chairman, resigned in November 2017 in protest at the Government’s decision to increase ministerial control at the organisation.

He was replaced by Cheryl-Ann Mapp, a lawyer and former magistrate.

Mr Major said that he had no concerns about the ministerial relationship with the commission and that the watchdog worked at “arms-length” from the government.

He added: “That’s the way we are established, to make decisions on questions of integrity, independent of any influence.”

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Published February 08, 2021 at 9:41 am (Updated February 08, 2021 at 9:41 am)

New BCGC head bets on Burt’s prediction

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