By KYLE WALKINE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DESPITE mounting criticism of the discrimination against Bahamians in the proposed Gaming Bill, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday that in order to protect the country’s integrity, the status quo restricting Bahamians from gambling in casinos will remain.
Mr Wilchcombe also said that foreigners will not be allowed to participate in webshop gaming once the
industry is regulated.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe said certain restrictions were put in place to protect the Bahamas and the government has not pushed them aside.
“Truth is, we have a number of issues in this country that we have to look at in terms of discrimination,” Mr Wilchcombe said. “I can tell you one or two that we have to address. But the truth is that this is a system that’s been going on now for many decades. It was all for the growth of our country. We have to remember that when casinos were agreed to, they were agreed to as an amenity for the tourism industry. That’s what it is right now. That’s what I intend (for it) to remain for the moment because that’s what’s expected.”
Labour Minister Shane Gibson has voiced his disapproval on the new gaming legislation because it upholds the ban against Bahamians gambling in casinos.
However, Mr Wilchcombe said the law was written the way it is for a reason.
The minister, who also has responsibility for gaming, also said the legislation that would regulate web shops should be complete by Friday, with regulation to take effect before the end of the month. The government has said that taxes on the sector will be retroactive to July 1.
Mr Wilchcombe also said the government has still not made a decision on the licensing fee web shops will be subjected to once the sector is regulated.
The legislation will create standards web shops must meet in order to be licensed.
“We’re asking all companies to comply and if they can’t meet the standards they have to close,” the minister said. “But what I suspect to happen is that some will conglomerate.”
He said some of those standards are integrity, the web shop’s ability to be monitored, the type of gaming that is used, financing and the web shop’s wherewithal to survive.
The minister said the Gaming Bill is nearly done. However, the government is currently awaiting word from Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson, who is abroad meeting with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), before finalising the bill.
FNM Leader Dr Hubert Minnis has continuously criticised the government for its decision to move ahead with regulating the web shop industry despite an overwhelming “no” vote in last year’s gaming referendum.
However, Mr Wilchcombe said the referendum’s low turnout suggested that Bahamians were urging the government to take the lead on the issue.
“The referendum had 50,000 plus people that voted,” he said. “I think it was 53,000 or thereabout.
“It told you something, that Bahamians took the position that they will stand back and see what happens. In fact, don’t ask us to govern for you. You govern. I think that’s what they were saying.
“We respect the fact that they voted and there were many who opposed. I don’t like certain things, but I understand how societies work. In a democracy we have choices. You can do or not do. We’re hoping that more and more Bahamians will determine that they don’t want to gamble.”