By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT has reached a substantial agreement with stakeholders over the revised Gaming bill, State Minister for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said yesterday.
Mr Gomez said consultations are nearly complete, but the bill will not be brought to Parliament until after legislation to implement value added tax (VAT) has been passed.
“I was under the impression that we have reached a substantial agreement and we have all but completed our consultations, and I anticipate that very shortly the bills on gaming will proceed,” Mr Gomez said. “I know the VAT debate starts immediately following the constitutional bills and we should wrap up the debate (today).”
In a recent interview, FML Group of Companies Chief Executive Craig Flowers told The Tribune that the greatest challenge for the government’s new Gaming Bill rested on its ability to craft regulations that meet international standards for online gaming in casinos.
Mr Flowers said he believed the government will struggle to acquire international standards for online casino gaming, adding that webshop operations were primarily domestic.
“Right now their challenge is, in my opinion, certainly going to be how do they satisfy the casinos,” Mr Flowers told The Tribune last month.
“Domestically, we don’t have a problem but for the casinos they have a problem and that’s where this issue I think is going to come to rest as it relates to how does the government acquire international standards in the Bahamas for the casinos to do what they want to do, because we the webshops, all we do is operate locally.”
Mr Flowers explained that the term online gaming referred to international internet games; however, the term was often used colloquially to refer to domestic gaming conducted by webshops through the use of a web browser on a local server.
“Online gaming has two aspects of perception,” he said. “One is the term online, (which) means that we are to move by way of the internet across international borders of entertainment and gaming, that’s the international, that’s the normal way online gaming is to be perceived.
Mr Flowers said: “Unfortunately that is not the reality of what we (webshops) do when we do online gaming domestically, it is not perceived as online because it means that we are using a browser to do local business.
“International online gaming requires any government to meet international compliances to move funds and in particular American funds across international borders, and that’s where the United States comes in on this whole charade.
He added: “Most money that is moved globally are US currencies and if US currencies are going to be moved from one country to a next across international borders the US has a challenge, a major problem with that and they have reasons to.
“They are going to protect their currency against any type of money laundering, terrorist, any type of human smuggling or drug smuggling, they have a right to protect this.
“Therefore with that the compliance regulatory bodies for international purposes will find it very difficult to allow institutions who are moving monies in this fashion to be put into the monetary or banking institution and that is where we have problems.
“You can do it but the international standards are going to say we don’t want your money, please keep your money out of our bank,” he added.
Last month, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe confirmed to The Tribune that the conduct of international internet online gaming from casinos, as opposed to web shop owners, was one of the issues still up for debate in the new Gaming Bill.
At that time, the government had also not yet determined whether persons with a criminal record would be eligible to obtain web shop licenses, according to Mr Wilchcombe.
He said officials were sifting through several documents and reports from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to incorporate the recommendations into the finished gaming legislation.
Yesterday, Mr Gomez said he expected the debate over proposed amendments to the Constitution will be finished when the House resumes this morning. Once the bills have been passed, the parliamentary agenda is expected to move on to VAT legislation.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Perry Christie said he hoped to see the final VAT legislation debated and passed before Parliament’s standard summer recess, acknowledging that there would be “an amendment or two” to the bill that was tabled a few weeks ago.
Mr Christie said that despite the opposition’s objection to the tax, the government would be “resolute” in its commitment to see the passage of the VAT legislation through Parliament and the implementation of the tax on January 1, 2015, at 7.5 per cent.