RECENT downsizings are intended to make the Gaming Board “more relevant” and help it cope with the “seismic changes” created by web shops, a Cabinet minister said yesterday. Dionisio D’Aguilar, who has ministerial responsibility for gaming, told Tribune Business that the industry regulator will “look extremely different from the Gaming Board of today within five years”.
He added that there was “no oversight infrastructure” in place to supervise the web shops that were legalised by the former Christie administration in 2014 - a situation he hoped to start correcting within the next 12-24 months.
Mr D’Aguilar said the Gaming Board had to rapidly adjust and transform to the new technology-based era, which would require inspectors and analysts with a much-different skill set than in the past.
“While it’s extremely painful to downsize, I don’t think 92,000 people voted for us to keep the status quo,” he told Tribune Business in reference to the recent 30 Gaming Board lay-offs. “I think 92,000 Bahamians voted for us to look at all the Government entities and see where changes needed to be made.
“No industry has changed more than the gaming industry. The driving force in the gaming industry is now the oversight and regulation of what were previously called numbers houses. That’s an online business. What we were doing traditionally isn’t relevant any more.
“We’ve got to go out and say: Let’s adjust, let’s change, let’s put in the necessary oversight and regulation, and find the people we need to implement it.”
Mr D’Aguilar thus backed the rationale previously given for the lay-offs by Gaming Board chairman Kenyatta Gibson, who said the terminations - which followed the earlier release of 17 persons whose temporary contracts had expired - came following completion of a manpower assessment of the overstaffed agency.
Mr Gibson said that, over the past four years, staffing levels at the Gaming Board had increased by 40 per cent. He also said the regulator was focused on hiring persons with the skill sets to properly supervise the sector.
“To send in an inspector to inspect a web shop location: What does that mean?” Mr D’Aguilar said yesterday. “Check the lavatories? You’ve got to check the computer systems and go from there.
“That’s where you provide the oversight, that’s where you make the inspection and check what the gaming house is doing what’s it’s supposed to be doing in terms of paying taxes, winnings. These are all electronic, and we have to understand and learn that business.
“This is an area that’s been in transition from 2014. There was a seismic change in the gaming business in this country, and we need to adjust and assimilate to provide real oversight. It is not an inspector entering a numbers house and walking around to make sure everything’s good.”
Mr D’Aguilar said everything was geared towards “making the Gaming Board more relevant in 2017-2018”, and he conceded that it currently has “no oversight infrastructure” for the web shop industry.
“How do you provide oversight? What is the process by which you provide oversight? We need to determine how that’s going to be done and build that capacity,” the Minister told Tribune Business.
This, he emphasised, required “tech savvy” regulators, and he added: “I don’t envision the Gaming Board headcount getting any less; it’s just going to have to change.
“There’s going to be a change in the skill set of a Gaming Board employee. People say: ‘You can retain them’, but not necessarily. It’s difficult to retrain somebody who’s not had an full background in IT.
“We need to build our oversight infrastructure. What is oversight going to look like? How do you do that given that, in essence, these companies are online?”
Mr D’Aguilar said he wanted the Gaming Board to start building this ‘infrastructure’ within the next 12-24 months, and added: “The Gaming Board of five years from now will look extremely difficult from the Gaming Board of today.
“Even though the political pundits will come in and say: ‘This is unacceptable’, you have to adjust and rework yourself.” Mr D’Aguilar said the Government’s economic policies would hopefully create private sector jobs that those released from the Gaming Board and other government entities can fill.