Categorized | National News

Minister: Bahamians To Own Casinos

Bahamians, who have long complained that they have been discriminated against when it comes to owning casinos, will soon be allowed to enter the casino market, according to a top cabinet minister.

Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, who has responsibility for gaming, said Bahamians should be able to occupy every possible office within the structure and within the sector.

“We are working diligently to ensure that Bahamians will sooner, rather than later, be owners of casinos and owners of the gaming industry of The Bahamas. That is fundamental,” Mr. Wilchcombe said yesterday during the 2013 Caribbean Gaming Forum’s opening ceremony at Atlantis.

Prime Minister Perry Christie has said in the past that there is nothing in the law that prevents Bahamians from owning casinos so long as they are able to qualify.

Over the years, owning a casino, it seems, has been overshadowed by frustrations that many Bahamians are not allowed to gamble in casinos while their foreign counterparts can.

Many have called a new gaming bill designed to modernise the industry “discriminatory” because it contains a clause that would permit permanent residents and work permit holders to gamble in casinos, but not Bahamians.

The local hotel casino industry has already proposed 17 reforms to make the industry more competitive against international rivals.

In a bid to make the gaming industry more responsible, accountable and transparent, GovRisk, a London-based group is at the Atlantis Resort for three days training 100 participants from 15 countries.

Mr. Wilchcombe, who was the keynote speaker at the forum, said it is not easy to revolutionise an existing philosophy that requires change.

In fact, he said doing so often brings criticism and adversarial positions.

“It is wonderful that you have come at this time and you’ve come at a time when we are moving forward with modernising and we intend to gain our position as the leader in gaming in the Caribbean and certainly we wish to be competitive in the world, if not for the number of casinos certainly for the quality of the service that we provide and the integrity of the industry that we have maintained,” Mr. Wilchcombe said.

The Bahamas, which is regarded as the grandfather of gaming in the region, started in the 1920s when no other country was considering it, the minister noted.

“We took a giant leap, because it was then discovered that people came to The Bahamas during the winter months and they came to our country and we did not have the resources to provide the type of entertainment. Over time, the model has become a model we are very proud of because it’s still connected to the resorts. It’s connected to the tourism industry and has caused it to grow,” he said.

“In fact, no one can doubt the ability of this industry to cause economic growth and that’s why 15 countries in the Caribbean now have welcomed gaming into their jurisdictions.”

He noted that The Bahamas introduced regulations in the sixties to ensure that there is no cheating and also because of the growing need to deal with those who want to breach laws by engaging in money laundering.

He said the Gaming Board further ensures the integrity of the industry and ensures that this jurisdiction is not abused.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism Harrison Thompson said with such great dynamic growth, The Bahamas, like everywhere else, must ensure that it plans and puts in place the proper regulatory and security frameworks.

“Gaming easily demonstrates how small technology has made the world. We must take a global view of this expanding industry and try to wrap our minds around the technology driving it,” Mr. Thompson said.

Kleo Papas, one of the directors of GovRisk said the forum has a straightforward aim: to bring key stakeholders together from around the region to discuss how ways to make gaming more “transparent and more socially responsible whilst maintaining growth in this industry.”

“Our main area of expertise lies in financial crime prevention and we have found over the years that the very best way to advise to inform and to educate and improve is through open and frank discussions amongst all key stakeholders,” he said.

Mr. Wilchcombe said it makes no sense having a vibrant tourism industry and large casinos if the people are not properly trained to take advantage of the opportunities.

He added that the three-day session will help Bahamians and others understand what is required to lift the industry and ensure its integrity.

“If we do not, then in this world of competition we’re likely to lose,” he said. “For developing states like The Bahamas to lose any effort that is made is not going to auger well for the future of not only the country but the people of The Bahamas.”

The minister said it has been nearly 100 years since gaming was introduced in The Bahamas and there have been limited adverse effects.

Rogan Smith

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