By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe yesterday said the government is in the process of finalising when key elements of the new gaming legislation are to be implemented as web shops transition into regulated operations.
This week the government will assess dates for the transition period web shops are expected to undergo before they are formally regulated. Mr Wilchcombe said this week he will also look at when the first gaming house operator licences will be issued.
Mr Wilchcombe, who said he was “very excited” about how the process was unfolding, told The Tribune that officials had been meeting since last week to get a better understanding of how web shops currently operate.
Discussions are expected to continue today and the government intends to make major announcements this week regarding the web shop industry, he added.
He spoke during an interview with The Tribune at his office in the Ministry of Tourism at the Hilton’s Business Centre on Bay Street.
“The experts are in town, we have had a series of meetings last week just understanding how the ground is laid,” Mr Wilchcombe said.
“We will (have two days of meetings this week) to now begin the specific details of the schedule that I will review and put in place. They will include the day for enactment; will include the request for proposal, the day for the transitional period to begin and technically when it will end. Also I will look at when the first licences will be issued. So sometime during the course of this week we will make announcements in reference to that.”
The new bill states that web shop licences 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 $5m 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.
Last month, 27 government members of Parliament voted “yes” to the controversial gaming legislation. Fort Charlotte MP Andre Rollins was the only PLP to vote against the Bill.
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 move forward with legalising web shops has sparked fierce criticism from the religious community and the opposition Free National Movement.
Religious leaders are upset because the government has ignored the results of the 2013 gambling referendum, which cost tax payers $1.2 million, and instead moved to regulate the web shop sector.