Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe dismissed Dr Andre Rollins’ criticism of the recently tabled Gaming Bill as “narrow” yesterday while insisting that the Bill will advance the gaming industry and not facilitate corruption.
He added that “all other comments regarding Rollins’ statements will be discussed within the PLP caucus.”
Dr Rollins, who served as Gaming Board chairman until he was fired nearly two weeks ago, said on Wednesday that the bill gives too much power to the minister responsible for gaming, creating potential for corruption. He added that when he was Gaming Board chairman, neither he nor other members of the board had input on revising the gaming legislation.
He also said he would vote against the Bill if it remains in its current form because it discriminates against Bahamians. But Mr Wilchcombe, who has ministerial responsibility for gaming, told reporters yesterday that the minister can only operate in the context of wider government.
“When the Bill says ‘minister,’ the minister can’t pass anything by himself,” he said. “Minister means government. It means it must return to the government. For instance, if we determined that Bahamians should go into the casinos, the minister can cause it to happen only through the government where regulations have to be drawn up and that’s done by the Attorney General’s Office. The power that exists with the minister exists now (under the current Lotteries and Gaming Act). The power that exists with the board exists now but education is imperative because when people aren’t educated or informed properly then they won’t have the relevant information that’s required to counter what might seem to be a sensible statement but when you really analyse it, it’s (nonsense).”
Attorney Wayne Munroe, who represents several web shop operators, echoed Mr Wilchcombe’s view on the matter when asked to comment yesterday.
“The minister exercises policy decisions,” he said. “He has that power because he would take it to Cabinet and they would deliberate on it. If the board denies something that could make the government liable, for example, the minister should have the last say because the minister ultimately has to answer for things.”
In stressing his point, Dr Rollins used the Nevada Gaming Commission as an example of how important decisions are placed into the hands of a group of people rather than a single politician.
Mr Munroe, however, stressed the difference between a gaming commission and a gaming board. “The gaming commission is full of professionals, not part time appointees that come and go,” he said. “Whether we should’ve moved to a gaming commission here is another point but we don’t have one right now.”
Mr Munroe also dismissed Dr Rollins’ concern about not being included in the process of drafting the bill while he was Gaming Board chairman.
“Dr Rollins is an orthodontist,” he said. “A cashier from BEC could be the chairman of the Gaming Board. But for drafting a Bill this important, the government sought out gaming consultants. Dr Rollins is not a gaming professional. The problem is we elevate politicians too much in this country.”
As for his views on the matter, Mr Wilchcombe said government officials are satisfied that the secretary of the Gaming Board gave it the necessary technical advice needed to make the right decisions.
Both Mr Wilchcombe and Mr Munroe also rejected Dr Rollins’ criticism that the amended Gaming Bill will “sanitise” the criminal convictions of web shop operators who may have been convicted under the Lotteries and Gaming Act. He was referring to FML CEO Craig Flowers who was convicted in 2011 of permitting his premises to be used for a lottery and promoting, organising and conducting a lottery. Mr Flowers was subsequently fined $10,000 and almost $1 million, which was taken by police during a raid of his establishment several years ago, was confiscated.
Mr Wilchcombe said: “The assertion of supporting crooks speaks to the problems still facing the black man. In some eyes they will always be crooks. What Sir Lynden said is that we have secured the social and political revolution. It is time for the economic revolution. Bahamians of all colours demand respect.”
And for his part, Mr Munroe questioned whether Dr Rollins understands how the country’s court system works. “If Dr Rollins doesn’t understand the court system, Flowers has a place in the Court of Appeal,” he said. “Dr Rollins has to be a bit more responsible when you are a public figure who holds that kind of office. The Bill does nothing at all to their prior convictions. Dr Rollins might be one of the persons who want to make a decision that if a case was brought against me in the past, I’m bound by it. But only a judge can determine that; not an orthodontist.”