By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE first webshop licenses are expected to be issued by May 2015, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday, adding that the legislation that will regulate the gambling operations of webshops will be enacted into law next Monday.
Speaking with The Tribune outside of Cabinet yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe said the government was “very pleased” about the bill’s enactment, which would “begin the process of revolutionising gaming in The Bahamas.”
“We feel quite good about the efforts,” he said. “We’ve had consultants working with us because of the complexity of what we’re dealing with. We have two phases, we have casino gaming and web shops, which will become gaming houses. We’re very pleased that we’ve been informed that we’re perhaps the only jurisdiction in the world that’s attempting to do what we’re doing, insofar as the web(shop) business is concerned, because it exists in many other countries who have not taken this gigantic step.
“We made a commitment to control the proliferation and the cause for regulation. Once (the bill) becomes law it then gives us the authority to begin the administration for what amounts to a period for transition, which will allow the owners of the various shops to satisfy all past debt, agree to the terms of the law. They have to have an affidavit, which will cause full disclosure and help us in our administration of the industry, and certainly we will have the cause for the Request For Proposals and the issuance of licenses.
“This entire process will start Monday, and we believe it will take four or five months to get it completed. So by late March, April, May, you’ll see the first licenses released.”
The new law states that web shop licenses may be applied for “only in response to a formal invitation to apply” by the Gaming Board and advertised “in the prescribed manner in the gazette.”
According to the Gaming House Operator Regulations, web shops will be taxed at a rate of 11 per cent of the taxable revenue or 25 per cent of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation depending on which one is greater.
Annual gaming house license and monitoring fees would cost $250,000. There also will be additional license fees for essentially all web shop employees.
Operators, whose businesses gross turnover of less than $5 million will be required to pay a penalty of $350,000 in lieu of taxes that could not be collected when they were operating outside the Act, the regulations said. Businesses whose gross turnover exceeds $5 million will be required to pay a penalty of $750,000 for the same reason.
In September, 27 government members of Parliament voted “yes” to the controversial gaming legislation. Fort Charlotte MP Andre Rollins was the only PLP to vote against it. He was joined by the six members of the opposition FNM who were present.
Five MPs were absent for the vote, including the PLP’s deputy whip and Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells, Central and South Abaco MP Edison Key (FNM), Central Eleuthera MP Theo Neily (FNM), North Abaco MP Renardo Curry (PLP) and South Abaco MP Picewell Forbes (PLP).
The government’s decision to legalise web shops has sparked fierce criticism from the religious community and the opposition Free National Movement.
Religious leaders are upset because the government ignored the results of the 2013 gambling referendum, which cost tax payers $1.2 million, and instead moved to regulate the web shop sector.