The Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Branville McCartney has called for the implementation of more progressive legislation to facilitate gaming in The Bahamas but appeared to stop short of calling for a revision to the law to allow Bahamians to participate.
The issue has long been a big bone of contention for many clerics who have outright blasted any attempt to move in that direction. McCartney said gaming plays a vital role in the promotion of the tourism industry which is the country’s main generator of revenue.
„The time has come, in my view, to formulate more progressive policies for the promotion of gaming in The Bahamas and to review and update our gaming laws in order to keep abreast of technological changes in the industry,“ he told.
In the early 1970’s the largest jackpot was 150 coins on the quarter slot machine which was worth about USD 37.50, the minister pointed out. Today, he said, one can win millions of dollars on the slots. „Clearly, new legislation is needed to keep abreast of ever changing automation and new technology in gaming,“ he said.
„A case can be made that our gaming laws are archaic. Despite the advancements of the Internet and the proliferation of gaming on-line, The Bahamas currently lacks substantive laws to regulate Internet gaming.“
Not so for other countries in this part of the world. For instance, the Turks and Caicos currently allows residents, who make a minimum of USD 75,000.00 annually, to gamble. Additionally they allow a number of local bars to have a few legal slot machines. In Puerto Rico and Curacao citizens can gamble during “local nights”.
However, gaming has not all been a bed of roses for some countries. In the case of Antigua, in 2003, the government initiated a WTO case against the United States for blocking foreign operators from participating in American online gambling markets. The WTO ruled in 2004 and 2005 that the United States had violated the 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) treaty which it signed, that includes and permits Internet gambling.
After losing a final appeal, Deputy US Trade Representative John K. Veroneau, in a statement said that the US had decided „to exclude gambling from the scope of the U.S. commitments under the GATS„. Gaming issues in The Bahamas are different.
„Whenever the question of the expansion of gaming comes up in The Bahamas, as it does from time to time, decisive action is effectively forestalled by a strong lobby from the religious community,“ said McCartney. „The question of the introduction of a national lottery appears to have been still born. However as an industry if gaming does not move forward the only other choice is to stagnate and die.“
He raised several pivotal questions that should be answered about local participation in gaming potentially banning foreigners from participating who qualify for permanent residency permits without the right to work because they purchased a home or condominium for a certain price because they are regarded as ordinarily resident in The Bahamas.
There are an estimated 10,000 persons with permanent residence status for The Bahamas. There is a growing market for casino operators in islands like Exuma, New Providence and Abaco, according to tourism officials.
The tourism state minister said the prospect of Harrah’s Entertainment joining with Baha Mar developers for the development of the properties along Cable Beach, coupled with the reopening of the Royal Oasis Resort and Casino in Grand Bahama provides an excellent opportunity to address the challenges faced by legalized gaming in The Bahamas.