By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe believes web shop operations will eventually grow and employ more Bahamians, reversing a concerning trend.
Web shop operators, he said, are currently focusing on ensuring they are in full compliance with the law and will address issues of development later.
He was speaking a day after the deadline for web shop operators to turn over signed affidavits disclosing whether they intend to remain open during the industry’s transitional period.
Eleven web shops have already submitted affidavits, he told The Tribune, adding that 12 have fully paid their tax arrears to the tune of over $5m.
He said that eight web shops have already closed and 587 stores are currently open around the country.
He expressed confidence in the long-term viability of web shops amid concerns over recent layoffs.
Last month, Island Luck, the country’s largest web shop operation, laid off 47 employees because their positions were not accommodated in the government’s new Gaming Act.
Concerns also have been raised that another major web shop operation had closed down its business recently, although representatives of that company have denied such reports.
“You will eventually see a reversal of these developments,” Mr Wilchcombe told reporters before a Cabinet meeting yesterday. “I think they’re going to increase employment. It depends on what they are doing. Right now the web shops are trying to find themselves on a level landscape to ensure they are moving in the right direction, complying with the requirements. It’s pretty much a lot of administration going on right now to ensure that one, they get their documents in, two they get their affidavits in and three, they are complying with all the taxes that are required. And then, of course, they’ll move towards the business of growth and development. So I think we’ll see some turnaround and we’re listening to the complaints by the former employees and obviously we’re talking to the web shop owners to make sure we’re providing as much guidance as we possibly can.”
Mr Wilchcombe expressed his confidence in the business capabilities of web shop operators.
“I think they’re all looking at new ways that they are going to invest and develop,” he said. “One thing for sure is we’re talking about enterprising Bahamian businessmen who have done a tremendous amount of work and have technology that is just beyond. And I think you’re going to see some new games and new activities introduced and they’re going to enhance what they are doing now all within the paradigms of what we have set out in the law. I’m very pleased that they have worked with us. They have given us all that we required. They’ve stuck to the deadlines. They’ve done everything professionally and we’re very impressed by the work they have done. They don’t want to lay off people, but they are making business decisions but we have heard from one or two who said that they want to do some increases and want to introduce new things and they would be considering more employees.”
Mr Wilchcombe also said that gaming officials will be turning over signed affidavits from web shop operators to law enforcement authorities this week, which indicate whether they have elected to remain open during the industry’s transitional period.
He suggested that based on the information, police will act to ensure businesses not qualified to remain open during the transitional period close down.
Monday was the deadline for web shop operators to lodge sworn affidavits with the secretary of the Gaming Board disclosing the intentions of their businesses during the transitional period.
“By later this week we will be passing on all the affidavits to the commissioner of the police that will then lead to those that have decided to stay in staying in and those that have not decided to stay in having to shut down,” Mr Wilchcombe said. “Again we have to appreciate this is the transition period. It’s tough from the very beginning. It always settles down and people find exactly where the industry is going and so we expect some difficult situations to occur and we believe it will work itself out. We’ve been able to sit with the police, inform them of all the timelines; we’ve informed the House of all the timelines; they’ve worked with it and we are going to the next phrase.”