Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government has collected more than $20m from web shops in tax arrears and related fees as it works to regularise the industry, according to Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe.
Mr Wilchcombe confirmed there was still no decision on the number of licenses that will be issued, adding that there has been no negative reaction from operators during this transition period.
“We’ve had no pushback at all,” he said, “there has been nothing I can look at that says that we are concerned to the point where we’re seeing any negativity, none whatsoever. They (web shop operators) are working very professionally, they’re the aggressors.”
He added: “They’ve always been in a structured business, we just didn’t know how structured they were. In fact we didn’t know how big the industry was, and every single day we’re discovering how big it is.
“By the time we get to parliament for the budget debate, we expect to have a full report on the money taken in and the companies that will qualify for a license.”
Last month, Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade charged that officers will begin to shut down web shops that are found operating outside the legal framework of the new gaming regulations that came into force on November 24.
While he did not specify when the planned operations would begin, he said the police action could be expected within a matter of days.
During a press conference yesterday, Mr Greenslade said police still planned to shut down noncompliant businesses, but would not rush during the transition period.
Mr Greenslade said: “We have a transition period now, and we’re not going to jump the gun and do anything to cause any difficulty with anyone.
“Today from where I sit as leader of this organisation we don’t have any reason to go into that arena,” he said. “At this stage I am satisfied that the process and procedures are being followed. Things seem to be going in the direction that the law has indicated it should go.”
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 wish to operate their businesses during the transitional period.
Mr Wilchcombe said: “It was all based on looking at and evaluating where we are at the end, to see the existence and the coexistence of them (web shops) all. Can they exist in the market place? Can the market place sustain them? So far we have not arrived at that decision but we are looking at it to be fair to them, and to be fair to the success of the industry.”
Only companies that are 100 per cent owned by Bahamian citizens, and who reside in the Bahamas, will qualify for licensing as a gaming house operator.
The closing date for purchasing an RFP was January 9, 2015.
The deadline for submitting applications for gaming house operator and gaming house premises licenses will be February 20, 2015.