By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Minister of Tourism yesterday acknowledged that the Gaming Board needs at least 30 more officers to properly enforce the zoning regulations for the web shop industry.
Speaking with the Tribune outside Parliament, Obie Wilchcombe, who has responsibility for gaming, said: “I think what we really need to do right now is ensure that the gaming industry has integrity.
“My job is to ensure integrity. I think the biggest challenge we face right now is the zoning challenge. How do we manage it and make sure that it is properly managed? We started on the premise that we do not want the proliferation, then we have to ensure that we properly manage it. That’s the biggest challenge we face right now. I need more officers, I need more people to be working.”
Asked how the Government plans to obtain the extra enforcement manpower and resources that it needs, Mr Wilchcombe said: “At the moment, I think I need about 30 more officers. I need officers not only for the capital, but places like Abaco and Grand Bahama.
“The good thing is the industry pays for it, because of the earnings and the fact that we do have a budget that allows for the industry to support what we are doing, so it works out.
“We always thought that we would see job creation because there are more than 3,400 people in that business right now. We have to constantly work on improving it, and to do that I need to ensure that we have the right officers in the field. There will be those in the office, those on the streets and those in technology. The bottom line is integrity.”
The zoning issue was recently raised by prominent web shop operator, FML chief executive Craig Flowers, who argued that there appeared to be very little enforcement of the zoning regulations. These prohibit the location of web shops near schools and churches.
A key objective of the newly-released regulations on gaming house premises licenses is to minimise any negative impact on communities, particularly places of worship, schools, locations where videos or similar games may be played by people, or premises at which pensions or welfare payments are collected.
The regulations state that no gaming house can be located “immediately adjacent, [or] at any property line, to a property whose dominant use is residential, unless zoned to be multi-use (commercial and residential)”.
And no gaming house can be located “within 100 feet of a place of worship, school, games arcade or premises at which pensions or welfare payments are collected”.
Gaming houses are also prevented from coming “within 100 feet of any other licensed gaming house premises, unless the Gaming Board expressly determines there is good cause to conclude that proximity to another licensed gaming house of less than 100 feet does not offend the character of the area in which the premises is located, and the need to prevent over-proliferation of gaming house premises in any area”.
Mr Wilchcombe, in previously announcing a 10-year moratorium on new web shop operators, said there had been a reduction in the number of web shop locations since the process to legalise, regulate and tax the sector began.
He said about 635 web shops existed at the start of the industry’s regularisation process but, by June 2016, only 372 locations had been licensed, with 31 pending.
“This will result in a total of approximately 403 licensed locations in the country, which equates to a 36.5 per cent reduction in the number of locations that were active at the commencement of the regularisation process,” Mr Wilchcombe’s statement said.
However, given that the Bahamas has an estimated 377,374 population based on 2013 data, the 403 web shops still amount to a ratio of one location for every 936 Bahamians and residents.