On Monday Bermuda‘s House of Assembly passed revisions in gaming law that will finally allow casinos to open. After a lengthy and tumultuous debate the Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2016 was passed along with Casino Gaming Designation Site Orders for the St Regis Hotel in St George’s and the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club on Hamilton Harbour.
The Gaming Amendment follows on several legislative actions in December 2015 including site selection criteria. Although the act passed without opposition it was heavily criticised earlier by parliament opposition members and within the One Bermuda Alliance.
The Act revises and ‘streamlines’ an act passed in 2014. Included in the bill is a two-year moratorium on public officers becoming involved in the gaming business. Some ministers argued that the provision was superfluous in light of strong anti-bribery laws already in place.
One clause that was heavily debated was crafted to provide operators of the St Regis hotel in St George’s a provisional license. The Desarrollos Group will not be permitted to operate gaming with the provisional license, but it is enough to confirm their eligibility and begin construction. One minister opposed to the clause wanted to know if any due diligence had been performed by the government to hot-shot such a provision, while others argued the clause may be necessary to keep the development progressing. Opposition leader David Burt is quoted by the Royal Gazette as saying, “If we set this precedent today, every developer is going to ask for the same thing — and they would be well within their rights to demand it.”
PLP MP Wayne Furbert wanted to know why another developer with a casino planned for Morgan’s Point was not included in the bill.
The Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission will make the final decision on which if any operators are granted licenses. The commission was created in February 2015. Later that year California Gambling Control Commissioner Richard Schuetz resigned his position in the U.S. to take the helm as executive director Bermuda on September 1. According to a World Casino News report at that time, Mr. Schuetz’s CV listed experience as the President and CEO of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Executive Vice President of the Frontier Hotel & Casino, and as the owner of a gaming consultancy firm called Schuetzinc, among other industry positions.
However, the Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2016 is not the only hurdle facing casino development in Bermuda. The Gazette reported on November 18 that none of the country’s three banks were then willing to finance casinos. Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission Chairman, Alan Dunch informed a group of business leaders there last Thursday that the industry may never get off the ground if local banks don’t get involved. “Nobody told me when I took this job on that the three banks in this country had told the Government they won’t bank casinos,” Dunch told the Association of Bermuda International Companies. He added that if they can’t get the banks involved there would be no casinos coming to Bermuda.
Tourism minister Senator Michael Fahy reportedly told the Royal Gazette, “The Bermuda Government is well aware of the issues that surround banking the proceeds from gaming. It is important that we have a robust regulatory regime to demonstrate to both local banks and their overseas correspondent banks that adequate know-your-client and anti-money laundering provisions are in place. As we move ever closer to having gaming in Bermuda through the allocation of casino gaming licences via the Casino Gaming Commission we will ensure that such robust provisions are in place to give comfort to our partners that our regime is of a first-class standard.”
Developers and pro-casino ministers had hoped that all legislation would be finalized and casinos would operating before the start of the 35th America’s Cup in May 2017, however, that goal no longer seems possible.
Earlier reports quoting officials confirmed that local denizens would be allowed to gamble in Bermuda’s new casinos. e-gaming from mobile phones and sports betting were also approved by the act.