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Govt changes gaming bill

Controversial provision deleted
Guardian News Editor

Published: Oct 21, 2013

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The government has reversed its decision to include a controversial provision in the new gaming bill that would have allowed permanent residents and work permit holders to gamble in casinos in The Bahamas.

The new bill was tabled in the House of Assembly last Wednesday.

The recommendation to allow those categories of people to be able to gamble legally was made by the casino committee established to push for reforms of the gaming industry.

After The Nassau Guardian made the last draft of the bill public in April, it sparked outrage among some Bahamians.

The bill in its previous form would have allowed work permit holders and permanent residents to gamble legally in The Bahamas.

In response to public angst over that revelation, the government revised the bill and eliminated that provision.

As it regards who would be allowed to gamble legally in The Bahamas, the government has now decided to allow the status quo to remain.

The bill that was tabled in the House of Assembly prohibits gaming for any person who is ordinarily resident in The Bahamas; is the holder of a permanent residence certificate; is the holder of a work permit or is the spouse of any of those people.

“Insofar as the permanent residents or the whole discussion of Bahamians in casinos, that is a discussion that requires further and much broader dialogue,” said Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe, who has responsibility for gaming.

“And why that’s important is when you take into consideration that there was a referendum that spoke to how Bahamians generally feel about the participation in Internet gaming or numbers as we call it, it is my view that before you introduce widespread gaming to Bahamians, we must begin a process of dialogue on gaming, the good and the bad.

“We must put in place a program that deals with individuals who become addicted and we must put funding in place for that.

“That to me is a process that takes much longer than what we are doing now.  We would need a significant period of time to do it correctly.”

The licensees had proposed the imposition of an entry levy for permanent residents and work permit holders.

The bill is viewed as crucial to casino operators who fear losing ground to other jurisdictions.

While the bill is intended to make them more competitive, it does not provide for the regularization and taxation of other forms of gaming, including web shop gaming.

On January 28, a majority of people who voted in a referendum on gambling voted against the establishment of a national lottery, and the regularization and taxation of web shops.

The new bill would allow casino operators to engage in mobile and Internet gaming.

Debate on the bill is scheduled to take place next week.

Asked yesterday whether the government bowed to pressure in eliminating the provision on permanent residents and work permit holders, Wilchcombe said, “You have the voice of the people that we heard through the radio stations, through the newspapers.  I think that is the voice of democracy, which is good.

“This is a victory for democracy.”

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