Casino decision could be delayed for months, head of gaming commission says
The head of the Bermuda Gaming Commission said yesterday a decision on a casino could still be six months away.
Jean Major, the commission’s chief executive, said that watchdogs were preparing to scrutinise the operator’s anti-money laundering procedures.
Mr Major added that commission’s board had been waiting since September to hear proposals from the people behind the casino on areas such as the security of cash and assets.
He was speaking after David Burt, the Premier, predicted three times this year that the casino planned for the St Regis Hotel in St George’s would open by the end of this year.
Mr Major told The Royal Gazette: “The key document is the internal control document. That relates to the security and protection of cash and assets. It’s anti-money laundering.
“The document will deal with the movement of cash and protection of assets. The document covers 35 different categories.”
Mr Major said he “would be surprised” if the process took up to another year – but declined to tie himself to a time frame.
He added: “If it took 12 months there would have to be serious issues.
“The final decision is not mine. It’s the board of the Gaming Commission’s.”
Mr Major said that people familiar with the process of opening a casino would not regard the anticipated delay as long.
He said: “The process is not unusually long – a 12-18-24 month period from beginning to end is not unusual, especially for a project of this size.
“The due diligence part took six to eight months. There are extensive background checks on the individuals involved and where the money is coming from.
“The due diligence part has been completed. That’s a significant part. Now we’re focusing on pre-opening plans and internal controls.”
Mr Major added that it was “a fair statement” that the major players in the deal, including the banks, were “aligned”.
He said: “I know there had been some concerns and legislative amendments were brought in to deal with appointments to the board.”
The Opposition has raised questions over the delay and criticised the Government.
Cole Simons, the leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, said: “It is of no surprise that the island will remain without casinos for the duration of 2021.
“It seems, yet again, there is a smokescreen preventing the people of Bermuda from getting the truth.“
Mr Simons also accused Mr Burt of a possible conflict of interest because he is also the tourism minister, which means he is responsible for the Bermuda Gaming Commission.
Mr Burt made predictions in January, May and September that the casino would be up and running in 2021.
He told MPs in the autumn: “It’s my hope, dream and expectation that we will have a casino opening before the end of the year.”
But a spokeswoman for the St Regis Hotel said that although the plan was “moving forward“, the project would not be completed in 2021.
Jump-starting the casino industry was a plank of the PLP’s 2020 election platform.
The Premier’s comments in September came as MPs approved legislative changes made after talks among the commission, the Government and banks about the processing of gambling cash.
Mr Burt said at the time success was “dependent on the willingness and support of correspondent banks to allow for the movement of funds in and out of Bermuda”.
He added: “It has been proposed by one local banking institution that in order to gain support of a correspondent bank a change of the law as proposed could assist.”
Mr Major added that the same process would need to be undergone by other would-be casino operators.
He said: “With the Hamilton Princess, there is a three part process that applies to them. The next step there is due diligence.”