By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday the government expects to announce within a few months the operators that were successful in obtaining Gaming House licences.
To date, Mr Wilchcombe said the government had collected almost $20m in fees and penalties during the transition period, which he described as having gone “very smoothly”.
Mr Wilchcombe told Parliament the government would reveal the approved list of web shop operators in May or June. However, he did not confirm how many operators would be announced at that time.
Last year, Mr Wilchcombe told this newspaper that the Christie administration was likely to award a maximum of eight licences. However, there has been no word from the government on whether they intend to change that number.
He said: “The transition process has gone very smoothly (although) we have had issues from time to time.
“Lawyers from the Attorney General’s office, the gaming offices and lawyers from the casinos have all had issues. We have sat down and were able to work things out so I am happy that we have the authority to work with these gaming houses, look at the work that they have been doing and how effective they have been.
“I am very pleased that to this day we have already collected almost $20m in back taxes and penalties. We have caused for the process to go smoothly so that come May or June there will be an announcement of persons who were awarded the various licences.”
Despite Mr Wilchcombe’s positive update on the transitioning process, Tribune Business reported last week that the government extended the deadline for web shops to submit their bids by two-and-a-half weeks to March 10.
This was substantiated by a letter obtained by Tribune Business which was sent to Alfred Sears, QC, the attorney for the Gaming House Operators Association.
In the February 18 letter, officials set out the government’s position on the taxes owed by the industry and how they are to be calculated. It said the government and the web shop industry have yet to reconcile several key issues.
In order to remain open during the transitional period, web shops were required to pay their tax arrears for the period July 1 to November 24, 2014, no later than December 1.
Operators were then given until December 8 to lodge sworn affidavits with the secretary of the Gaming Board, in which they disclosed whether they wished to operate their businesses during the transitional period.
Only companies that are 100 per cent owned by Bahamian citizens, who reside in The Bahamas, will qualify for licensing as a gaming house operator.
The closing date for purchasing a request for proposal (RFP) was January 9 and the deadline for submitting applications for licences for gaming house operator and gaming house premises was initially set for February 20.