By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
LAWYER Wayne Munroe said yesterday that his clients, who will face millions of dollars in fees before applying to operate gaming houses, did not receive a “sweetheart” deal from the government with its decision to regulate the numbers industry.
He added that the hefty fees operators will have to pay out to the government in the first year will likely lower the pay out to customers.
Mr Munroe told The Tribune that while his clients are pleased the government followed through with regulating the industry, there are certain clauses in the new Gaming Bill and regulations that his clients found to be “unfair”.
He said the web shop operators he represents, including FML, Island Luck, Island Game, Whatfall and Chances, made several suggestions to the government. However, he said, the majority of these suggestions were shot down.
As a result, Mr Munroe said the transition into a regulated environment will include hefty fees that will accumulate from the Christie administration’s imposition of back taxes. He said this includes outstanding business license fees going as far back as six years, among other things.
He insisted that the taxes, coupled with an assortment of other fees, will likely have an impact on pay-outs to patrons for winnings.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said in the House of Assembly on Monday that as much as $30 million a year could be generated from taxes and fees on numbers houses. Around $25 million is expected from fees during the transition into a regulated environment.
“There are some aspects that cause concern,” Mr Munroe said. “These include freedom for people to go with whichever operator they would like, meaning the ability of tourists to play in number houses. The government was not impressed to do that or even make concessions when it comes to the taxation structure. We felt that the tax rate and license fees should have been the same as casinos.
“So from a business standpoint, the rate of taxation will likely affect the pay-out system. Not only will the operator be affected, but the gamer will too.
“But I can tell you that my clients are most displeased with the back taxes and fees that will be imposed as a result from the years when the industry was unregulated. We thought that $350,000 was extraordinary in addition to business license fees which are to be retroactive by six years. And the fees must be paid up front.”
The new Gaming Bill was passed in the House of Assembly on Monday after months of debate and push back from various groups over the government’s choice to disregard the majority “no” vote result of the January 28 numbers referendum.
This week Democratic National Alliance Leader Branville McCartney insisted that regulating web shops was sure to “backfire”.
He said: “During his contribution to the debate, the prime minister called the finalised legislation the result of months of effort, and focused dialogue with the relevant stakeholders. He further intimated that the legislation was designed to, as he put it, ‘engender public confidence’ in the gaming sector. Sadly to say, the prime minister has failed on both fronts.
“Clearly, the response from the church and other sectors of the country disproves the PM’s assertion that he truly listened to the dissenting voice on this issue. Instead, it suggests a desire to repay the web shop owners the reported millions contributed to the PLP’s election campaign and further highlights the utter distrust that Bahamians feel toward this administration.”