Prime Minister Perry Christie
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Perry Christie yesterday said the revamped gaming legislation hinges on the support of international regulatory agencies, adding that the government was close to settling “significant issues”.
While the government’s plans to regulate web shops through the amendments to the Gaming Act have raised concern, Mr Christie said these worries also extend to casino operations.
Mr Christie revealed that a leading bank has said that it did not want to engage casino operators under the new regime.
He said legislation to enact a new regulatory framework for casinos and web shops, will soon head to Parliament.
He added that Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson has been given the green light to take the government’s position to a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Europe.
When pressed for details on the legislation, Mr Christie said he could not speak about its provisions further, but that there would be a “radical restructuring” of the Gaming Board and related agencies and the recruitment of foreign experts to train personnel.
He said he could not confirm whether web shops would be required to close temporarily once the sector is regulated – something that was suggested by Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe earlier this year.
“The initial position of the Royal Bank of Canada, the government’s banker, is that they don’t want to be a part even with the casinos as well,” Mr Christie said. “They don’t want to be a part of this new regime of the casinos, so that’s why there is no doubt about my having to act. You can argue with me that I broke my word (on the 2012 gaming referendum), but my word becomes secondary to the concerns of the country.”
He added: “What has happened now is that we’ve brought everything above the surface and the question now is how do we go about conforming our legislation to require best practices from the industry itself, and always having the capacity to guarantee the accuracy and integrity of their operations – that’s what we’re doing.”
“As a part of the process, I don’t want to move before I know the level of international concern over what we’re doing and the extent to which we conform what we’re doing to the expectations of the international regulatory agencies,” he added.
Although he will be travelling from the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in Antigua, Mr Christie said the first reading of the bill could take place a week on Wednesday if all issues are settled.
On Monday, Mrs Maynard-Gibson told reporters she is confident that proposed web shop regulations will be supported by the banking industry.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson underscored that the government is using benchmarks from other jurisdictions to come up with strategies for integration – such as a penalty for illegal operations prior to the implementation of the new regulatory framework.
She predicted that the legislation will stand up to international scrutiny on anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism financing (CTF) guidelines. She also downplayed reports that once regulated the underground economy will not be welcomed by mainstream banks.
When asked whether acceptance from international agencies was critical to avoid blacklisting, Mr Christie said: “We have an obligation in moving legislation, in bringing a regime in transition from where it is, to where it will be.
“We have an obligation to ensure we’ve done everything the right way in dealing with all of the agencies that may be concerned about that, and we know they’re concerned now.”
He added: “The reason why I was compelled to act in conflict of my word about the referendum is when the Governor of the Central Bank (Wendy Craigg) brought it to my attention and told me that what is happening in the Bahamas now is untenable. Then my personal commitment fell secondary to the national interest of the country and to show you how profoundly important it is.”
Mr Christie did not respond directly when asked whether the government has accepted and would continue to accept donations from web shop operators.
The Prime Minister spoke to the media on the sidelines of multi-agency exhibition on disaster preparedness by the National Emergency Management Agency at Rawson Square.