By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Zoning regulations designed to curb the proliferation of gaming houses could prove anti-competitive and be challenging to implement on New Providence, with some operators questioning what they perceive as a lack of enforcement by the Gaming Board.
The regulator, in a recent newspaper advertisement, said the Gaming House Premises licensing process had reduced the number of web shop locations nationwide by 44 per cent - from 635 pre-legalisation to 635 now.
It is also developing zoning regulations to control where web shops are located, particularly their proximity to schools, churches and residential areas.
Some operators, though, questioned the feasibility of the zoning regulations, particularly on an island as densely populated as New Providence, where all eight licensed chains have a significant presence.
“There are a number of new locations that weren’t supposed to be open according to the legislation, but it seems as though some persons were able to do more than others,” one web shop operator, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business.
“Some operators have multiple shops while others only have a few, so the question is how will their applications be viewed; what is fair? If one operator already has numerous locations, what consideration will be given to the guy who has less?”
Pete Deveaux, head of Percy’s at the Island Game, one of the eight companies granted a conditional gaming house operator license, told Tribune Business: “The Gaming Board is following their mandate. I think that they have implemented regulations we wanted to abide by and be guided by moving forward.”
“We have to wait and see how everything plays out moving forward. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s basically impossible to do when you look at Nassau. You’re talking about an island 21 miles by seven miles, and everything is already built up.
“It’s [the poposed zoning regulations] basically saying the ones who are where they are, that’s it, and so the strong only get stronger. There are only so many people that play numbers. People that weren’t playing before are not playing today because it’s now legal or because we are now advertising. Not one new player came to the game. If they didn’t play before they aren’t playing now.”
The other aspect of the Gaming Board’s advertisement that is arousing controversy is its call for the police to “affect the overdue closure” of Bet Vegas, the only operator not to receive a conditional license.
The regulator once again advised Bahamians that Bet Vegas is not licensed to conduct gaming transactions, although the company is challenging - via Judicial Review - the Gaming Board/Government decision not to grant it a licence.
It obtained a December 18 court Order that stayed an earlier decision overturning the block on its closure.
Anthony Brown, Bet Vegas’s president, slammed the Gaming Board’s latest pronouncement, while also noting the number of new gaming house locations that have opened since October 15, when the conditional license award winners were announced.
“The Board knows the matter that relates to Bet Vegas is still before the courts,” he added.
Mr Brown has previously blasted the Gaming Board’s closure order as a “slap in the face” for his business, asserting that he was the only web shop chain established after the sector was legalised.
“I waited until the Government made an affirmative decision to legalise and regulate the local gaming industry,” he said.
“Once the Government made its decision to legalise the industry, I then decided to pursue licensing in the legal industry, just like any optimistic entrepreneur would do once having noticed a lucrative opportunity.
“I went through the RFP process, where I designed the infrastructure of my company to meet all the requirements of the RFP. Even to the point that I started to recruit staff from the banking industry because of the requirements and similarities between the local banking and local gaming industries. Also, to make certain that my company was up to par and in line with the requirements of the Gaming Act.”
Obie Wilchcombe, minister of tourism, who has repsonsibility for gaming, said previously that some operators may be forced to close or relocate some of their premises due to the zoning regulations.
The eight companies which have received a conditional web shop gaming license are the FML Group of Companies trading as (t/a) FML Webshop; GLK Ltd t/a A Sure Win; Jarol Investments Ltd t/a Chances Games; Paradise Games Bahamas Ltd t/a Paradise Games; Playtech Systems Ltd t/a Island Luck; T.I.G Investments Ltd t/a Percy’s at the Island Game; The Four Point Group Trading t/a Asue Draw + Spin; and Bahama Dream Web Café Ltd t/a Bahama Dreams.