By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe says legislation which seeks to regulate webshops in the country and “leaves the door open” for a national lottery will be laid on the table at the House of Assembly next week.
Mr Wilchcombe, who also has responsibility for gaming, said the Bill incorporates land-based casinos but will not make provisions for Bahamians to gamble in hotels.
Explaining the implications of a numbers industry that is not regulated properly, Mr Wilchcombe said the legislation takes into account the views of local and international financial organisations who have expressed concerns of money laundering among other things.
Although Mr Wilchcombe previously told The Tribune that no more than eight licences to operators would be granted, he said Cabinet would this week make the final decision in that regard.
Prime Minister Perry Christie recently echoed the government’s intention to regulate the underground sector and said the industry’s taxes will be retroactive to July 1.
He said the government expected to raise revenue from webshops taxes in the order of .014 per cent of Gross Domestic Product - equivalent to $12m each year.
Speaking to The Tribune at the Cabinet office on Bay Street yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe said: “It was more complicated than we thought it would be, much much more detail than what we expected (and) the sophistication of the webshop is just unbelievable. It caused us to take a couple of days to talk with the banks and talk with the international agencies. All had to be incorporated in our discussions to make sure that we know that we were covering all of the bases.
“What we don’t want to do is move the legislation and then have to come back to it. We want to move the legislation with all parties on board all the interest taken into account and to be able to move the industry forward.
“We are going to ensure that it is regularised and that it ensures that the licence is representative of gaming and not banking. The legislation will have national lottery in it and will leave the door open for national lottery as our present legislation does.”
Mr Wilchcombe said the Christie administration thought it necessary to make provisions for a national lottery if ever there was a need to explore another industry. But for now he said all of the attention would be on perfecting webshops and how they operate.
“Once we perfect and regulate that industry, then we’ve got another industry if necessary. But we have to constantly weigh and see whether or not it has economic opportunity and to see whether or not it can be managed and how difficult it would be. So again the step is to gingerly deal with and ensure that we are making the right steps to ensure that an industry can develop.”
The Gaming Bill was tabled last October and debate was expected in the weeks to follow; however, that never took place because of push back from PLP Fort Charlotte MP Andre Rollins and political pundits.
Regulating webshops comes 17 months after Bahamians voted “no” in a Gaming Referendum costing more than $1m and which took place on January 28, 2013.