By KYLE WALKINE
Tribune Staff Reporter
CRAIG Flowers, CEO of the FML Group of Companies, said yesterday that he would invite smaller webshops to operate under his company if they are unable to meet the regulation requirements the government may put in place.
During an interview with The Tribune yesterday, Mr Flowers said while he does not know the government’s plans for the industry, he will open the doors of his company to those webshops that need assistance.
With the government set to regulate the controversial industry from July 1, many of the smaller web shop operators have questioned whether they would be forced to shut down or join up with a bigger company if they are unable to meet certain standards.
“I think they (smaller web shops) have a reason to be concerned on the mere fact that the government and many other persons have taken a position on the fact that there are too many web shops,” Mr Flowers said.
“Now as to how the government should deal with it, I cannot say. I leave that up to the government. What I can say is that my company, FML, has been known for its assistance to new persons coming into the industry. We’ve always taken the position to have open door policies. If the government says they can stay open but there are certain measures put in place that they cannot meet then I would invite them to come and operate under my company. It is what it is. I wish I could offer more.”
However, Mr Flowers said if the government feels the market is over-saturated and some of the smaller ones must be shut down, then he will not allow them to operate under FML.
“If the government is saying the newer web shops need to close then I will not go against their wishes,” he said. “If the government says that there are too many web shops and they must close down I cannot allow them to stay open under my company. What matters is that we abide by what the government wishes.”
“My argument is that I’m always here to assist,” he added. “If there is anything that I can do to help and assist anyone in the gaming industry I would do that. Primarily in the past, I have taken the role over the years to speak to newcomers in the industry. I try to educate them as to what the industry is about so if they need any assistance whatsoever I’m able to help them. But mostly, for FML we’re mostly concerned with knowing who all is in the industry and what they must do to conduct themselves in the industry.”
Last month, the owner of the Let’s Play web shop, a new entrant to the market, told The Tribune smaller web shops had fears that the government’s plans to regulate the sector will work in the best interests of bigger numbers houses. He referred to the government’s proposed $1 million licensing fee and hefty performance bond as criterion that would make it hard for smaller operators to meet standards for regulation. However, Mr Flowers disagreed with assertions that the government’s plans favours more established operators over new ones. He said the Christie administration has an inclusive approach and has been meeting with representatives from across the sector.
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, who has responsibility for gaming, recently told The Tribune that the government is still finalising details for web shop regulation.
He did, however, note that the government is looking at granting a maximum of eight web shop licenses and is considering a tax rate of 15 per cent on the sector.
“If the system is not managed correctly then we would probably end up with more underground games going on and that’s not what you want,” Mr Wilchcombe said in an earlier interview. “What’s important for The Bahamas is always the integrity of The Bahamas. We have to ensure that when we put in place the licences and the regulation that the companies that are going to pass through the process are going to be able to maintain and live up to the expectations because we’re going to be closely monitoring”.
According to information from the Ministry of Finance, there were at least 251 web shops in operation run by 35 different companies in 2013. Since that data was released a number of new web shops have entered the market.