Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe has hailed the new Gaming Bill tabled in Parliament yesterday as “new and cutting edge” legislation set to revolutionise the gambling industry and improve the Bahamas’ economy.
While the government has been subject to fierce criticism for its decision to regulate webshops, Mr Wilchcombe said the Christie administration’s position on the regularisation of numbers houses had evolved out of the emergence of certain realities following the outcome of the January 28, 2013, referendum. Those realities, he said, could no longer be ignored.
Mr Wilchcombe said: “The governor of the Central Bank has drawn attention that webshop operators were acting as bankers and hiring bank employees for this purpose. Concern has been expressed with regard to the violations of the country’s international obligations, which could have severe consequences for the Bahamas’ vital financial services industry.
“After wide consultation and in order to preserve and protect the national interest, my government has decided that the right thing to do in the circumstances is to regulate webshop gaming.”
The bill, he told members of Parliament, is set to drive revenue with a view to increasing the tax base in the country and stimulate job growth; create a sustainable competitive advantage for the gaming sector in the Bahamas, and increase tourism, using the industry as a springboard.
Mr Wilchcombe highlighted the proposed regulations that accompany the bill and said the government took seriously the proper policing of the webshop industry.
“A number of provisions of the existing Lotteries and Gaming Act and the various regulations deal with detailed operational procedures and processes which are not issues of legislative policy and are therefore more appropriately contained in Rules to be made by the Board or the Internal Control Standards of license holders.
“The Gaming Bill sets forth the key issues of policy in terms of which the various sectors of the gaming industry in the Bahamas will be licensed and regulated, while the proposed regulations put in place the primary procedures and mechanisms by means of which these policy objectives are to be attained.
“Separate rules have been drafted for adoption by the (Gaming) Board, which set forth certain detailed requirements with which license holders must comply in key areas of their licensed operations on a day-to-day basis.
“The internal procedures to be adhered to by license holders in order to ensure compliance with the Act, the regulations and the rules, will be contained in Internal Control Standards to be submitted to the Board for approval. The Gaming Bill and the proposed regulations and the proposed rules respectively provide detailed guidance regarding the minimum standards with which such Internal Control Standards will be required to comply.”
The House of Assembly is expected to next meet on September 10 to debate the bill. However, the opposition has called for the debate be put off to September 17 saying additional time would be needed to comb through the more than 300 pages of legislation.
A postponement, Leader of Government Business in the House Dr Bernard Nottage said, will not be accommodated as the government has an agenda that it must stick to.