By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government is becoming alarmed by the rapid expansion in web shop products and draw frequency, a Cabinet Minister revealed yesterday.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, the minister of tourism, told Tribune Business that the Minnis administration was more concerned by this trend than the number of physical web shop locations.
Pointing out that web ship locations had decreased by 37 per cent nationwide compared to pre-legalisation numbers, the Minister, who has responsibility for gaming, said the Government remained conscious of the potential anti-social impacts.
“The question is not the number of premises; it’s the number of opportunities to bet,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business. “They have draws every half hour now. We’ve got to look at that. Gaming exacts an economic toll on the well-being of the local population.”
He added that the Minnis administration was “mindful that some communities, especially in the Family Islands, have been devastated” by the proliferation of web shop gaming, which has sucked significant monies out of those small economies.
“There has been an enormous proliferation in the number of products the numbers houses offer,” the Minister said, despite locations reducing from 635 in 2014 to 400 now.
Acknowledging that it was “only natural” for the seven legalised web shop operators to grow and expand their businesses, Mr D’Aguilar said the Government had to assess whether it was “in the best interests of the Bahamian people” to let it go unhindered.
The web shop industry is forecast to generate $15 million, or almost three-quarters of the Government’s $21 million in gaming taxes for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and Mr D’Aguilar said the Minnis administration had to consider whether this was sufficient to balance the sector’s potential social impact. With taxes based on an 11 per cent gross revenue levy, he estimated that web shops were collectively generating around $135 million in annual revenue.
While agreeing that “gaming is here to stay, no doubt about it”, the Minister said the Bahamas had to ensure that it became “a favourite past time, as opposed to a way of life”, for all it citizens.
The Government’s other tourism plans were unveiled yesterday by the Prime Minister, who said it planned to split Grand Bahama ‘in three’ and market/promote each segment to a different niche.
Dr Hubert Minnis said the Freeport/Lucaya area would be marketed as a sporting/wellness/maritime tourism destination, while east and west Grand Bahama would be focused on eco-tourism and a “dynamic cultural village” respectively.
“Reviving Grand Bahama is pivotal to our realising our national economic objectives,” the Prime Minister said. “Our goal is to make Grand Bahama a renowned duty-free shopping centre for residents and millions of visitors from south Florida and around the world.”
Promising to revive downtown Nassau and Bay Street, but giving few details, Dr Minnis pledged to refurbish the cruise passenger welcome centre at Festival Place and deliver on the harbourfront promenade/walkway talked about by the Christie administration.
He said this would run from Woodes Rodgers Wharf eastwards to Armstrong Street, and include commercial and recreational space that would facilitate retail and restaurant opportunities for Bahamians.
As for the Family Islands, Dr Minnis said the Government would use Crown Land grants to assist economic development, as well as provide technical and marketing support. He also called for Bahamians to establish inter-island air hubs in the Family Islands, and promised investments to upgrade transportation and water supply infrastructure.
The Prime Minister also called for a reduction in the Bahamas’ food import bill through the increased supply of local produce to the hotel and restaurant industry.
This, he added, would enable BAMSI to focus on producing “select quality products” for both export and domestic use. The Government also plans to privatise the produce exchange.