By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
FNM Deputy Leader Peter Turnquest yesterday criticised the government’s decision to extend the transition period for web shops until an unspecified date, adding that it “hampers the ability of the industry to progress and develop in a transparent manner and with certainty”.
Mr Turnquest questioned whether the Christie administration was “prepared” for the transition process prior to passing new gaming legislation last year.
He also questioned if the government was “being deprived of revenue as a result” of the extension.
“The question must be asked, what is the hold up and were they not prepared for the process prior to passing the legislation?” Mr Turnquest asked yesterday. “Once again this government is proving that they were and are not prepared to govern.
“During this transition period, are the web shops being subject to gaming tax?
Is the government of The Bahamas being deprived of revenue as a result? Secondly, if they are not being taxed is this a backdoor way of returning compensation to the web shops for the penalty payment made?”
Mr Turnquest was referring to the government demanding that web shop operators pay a penalty for operating before the sector is regularised without guaranteeing they would get a license to operate. Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson said last year that the government would impose a penalty on web shops’ illegal operations prior to the implementation of a new regulatory framework for the sector.
“If it is not,” Mr Turnquest continued, “then it obviously hampers the ability of the industry to progress and develop in a transparent manner and with certainty. The ability to negotiate above board banking relationships is also hampered by this delay.”
The announcement on which web shops will receive licenses to operate as gaming houses was expected by the end of this month.
On Sunday, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, the minister responsible for gaming, told The Tribune that the Gaming Board had advised the government that the transitional period for web shop operators be extended.
“Due to the amount of work that must be reviewed and assessed the (Gaming) Board has advised that the transitional period be continued,” Mr Wilchcombe said. “We are determined to ensure the highest and internationally accepted level of transparency.”
In March, Mr Wilchcombe confirmed that ten web shop operators submitted RFPs in their bids to obtain gaming house licenses, and were subsequently set to undergo “strict scrutiny” from the Gaming Board in order for them to operate legally in the country.