By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Gaming Board has commenced a 90-day observation period to assess Island Luck’s new televised three-ball game - Quick Draw - amid concerns that it is in violation of the Bahamas’ gaming laws.
However, according to Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, the minister who has responsibility for gaming, the game is not a lottery and there had been no contravention of any laws.
Mr Wilchcombe said Gaming Board officials had done due diligence, as he maintained that Island Luck CEO Sebas Bastian had been in consultation with the same officials who assisted this country in drafting new gaming legislation in 2014.
The Bahamas hired consultants from the United Kingdom, the United States and South Africa to assist in drafting new Gaming Bill. Controversy mired the process for months leading up to the bill’s passage as the government pressed on with its plans to regulate and tax web shops.
“It’s not a lottery,” Mr Wilchcombe said when he was contacted by The Tribune.
“The Gaming Board has informed me of correspondence with them and Island Luck and I am assured that the necessary due diligence was done.
“They have consulted with the consultants who assisted The Bahamas with preparing of the new Gaming law and you know they were from the United Kingdom, South Africa and the US.
“It was upon those consultations that they proceeded. So it was predicated on due diligence.”
He continued: “The government did due diligence. So what’s going to happen is a 90-day observation by the Gaming Board who will make the final decision at the end of the 90 days.”
However, Democratic National Alliance Leader Branville McCartney yesterday questioned the new three-ball game and asked if Island Luck got authorisation to run what he perceived as a lottery.
“Accordingly, the question must be asked, when did the appointed Gaming Board grant approval for a lottery without the prime minister’s and the minister responsible for gaming’s knowledge or, indeed, without the knowledge of the Bahamian people? There must be some explanation given to the Bahamian people.”
In a press statement, he also raised concerns over whether the government was capable of properly monitoring the gaming industry.
“Eight web shop operators have been given provisional licences to date from the Gaming Board,” he added. “The new gaming legislation has been enacted for almost two years. The minister responsible for gaming recently stated that he expects full licences to be issued within months. Can the good minister confirm whether or not the delay in issuing these licences is because of the absence of proper monitoring?”
He continued: “We are reliably informed that to date anti-money laundering solutions are not in place for the regulator of gaming to be in compliant with international standards. In other words, there is no proper monitoring in place for the web shops. Accordingly, the Bahamas is at risk of being evaluated as not fully compliant to the international standards by the Caribbean Financial Task Force (CFAFT) evaluation team. Presently the regulator, the Gaming Board, cannot monitor the operator, web shops.”
Mr McCartney said this is cause for concern because without the necessary monitoring, the operation of gaming houses in the Bahamas could be open to money laundering and terror financing. In addition, the unmonitored gaming houses act as money transmission businesses.
He also raised concerns over minors being able to enter the web shops and gamble.
“Nobody is verified. You can go to an account, put one dollar on a particular number and nobody will be asked to present ID. This verification of persons also applies to foreigners or persons who are here illegally coming into the web shops to gamble, which is contrary to the Gaming Act. Moreover, the government is not in a position to know the true income of these web shops and thus unable to collect the appropriate taxes.
“The government must go on what is presented to them by the operators. At the casinos for example, proper software is in place that would cause the government to know exactly what is due in taxes from the casinos. This is not the case with the web shops.”
Last Friday, Island Luck hosted an event to introduce the three-ball game.
At the time, Mr Bastian was adamant that it was not a lottery. Quick draw offers 32 daily opportunities for the three-ball game to be played, every half an hour from 8am until midnight.
It is accessible on Island Luck’s new television channel, the company’s website or on cellular phones.