By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
ONLY eight web shop operators have been awarded conditional gaming house operator licences, with the “disqualified” applicant ordered to close its business in less than two weeks, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe announced last night.
Mr Wilchcombe, the minister with responsibility for gaming, said of the nine web shops that submitted requests for proposal (RFPs) to the government, Bet Vegas did not meet the “critical standards and benchmarks” that related to “each applicant’s qualification and eligibility to hold a gaming house operator license,” as well as “attributes central to the current and prospective financial viability of the applicant”.
And, by virtue of its disqualification, Bet Vegas was also found lacking the “capacity to create and maintain employment and generate tax revenue”.
The effective closure date for Bet Vegas is October 26, 2015, Mr Wilchcombe said.
Meanwhile, the list of successful applicants are: FML Web Shop, A Sure Win, Chances Games, Paradise Games, Island Luck, Percy’s at the Island Game, Asue Draw + Spin, and Bahama Dreams. According to Mr Wilchcombe, those companies must now complete a “series of regulatory requirements” before receiving a “plenary” gaming house operator licence.
The conditional licenses, he said, will be issued on November 2, 2015, marking the end of the review period.
Mr Wilchcombe said that the annual license and monitoring fees would be $250,000 per operator, $2,000 per premises and $1,000 per agent.
A notice of an award or disqualification will be served to each applicant on October 19, Mr Wilchcombe said.
In yesterday’s statement, Mr Wilchcombe outlined seven “eligibility standards” by which the nine applicants were graded throughout the duration of the RFP process, which included “qualification: the probity investigation; Bahamian ownership; financial stability; compliant server location; compliance with the December 2014 affidavit on premises and agents, and sufficiency of contributions required by the Gaming Act.”
“In order to ensure a uniformed, objective and measurable approach to licensure, the Gaming Act, by and through the RFP process, identified critical standards and benchmarks that related to each applicant’s qualification and eligibility to hold a gaming house operator license as well as to attributes central to the current and prospective financial viability of the applicant, and, as a corollary, to its capacity to create and maintain employment and to generate tax revenue,” Mr Wilchcombe added.
“On October 19, 2015, notice of an award or disqualification to each applicant, as appropriate pursuant to Section 85 (22) of the Act will be given. On November 2, 2015, (the) statement of condition review period ends and gaming house operator conditional licenses will be issued by the Gaming Board under Section 32(5).”
Marking the end of a lengthy process, Mr Wilchcombe added: “As minister responsible for gaming, I am pleased that the professional and diligent work of senior policy advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister for Tourism, Sir Baltron Bethel, and the secretary of the Gaming Board Verdant Scott and his team of Bahamians and AG Consultant, Gaming Integrity Services and White Sands Gaming have reached the next and important stage in interactive gaming.”
Ahead of the licensing phase, nine operators were approved to operate during the transitional period. To remain open, web shops were required to pay their tax arrears for the period July 1 to November 24, 2014, no later than December 1, 2014.
They were then given until December 8, 2014 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.
As part of the RFP process, web shops were required to provide their financials, and the Gaming Board has been investigating these applications since March 10.
The government previously projected that it would collect $20m in web shop taxes annually.
On Tuesday, Island Luck CEO Sebas Bastian said he was confident that his company would be among the chosen few to receive the conditional gaming house operator licenses, insisting that his team had put together a “best in class” RFP.
His comments came as Prime Minister Perry Christie accepted a donation of $250,000 from an association of web shop bosses for Hurricane Joaquin relief efforts.