By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Bahamian businessman has urged the government to present a "detailed audit" of the web shop gaming sector, and is backing the introduction of a National Lottery.
Peter Roker, operator of the Bargain City Plaza on Carmichael Road, told Tribune Business that "the gate should have never been opened" in legalising web shop gaming.
He referenced the 2013 gaming referendum/opinion poll, noting that Bahamians had rejected the regulation and taxation of the industry.
"There are certain things that I am concerned about as a Bahamian and a business person," Mr Roker said. "One is the gambling issue; how it affects the people, what kind of heritage it is creating for my children and grandchildren, as well as other people's children and grandchildren.
"I am concerned about what kind of impact it will have on the economy and the disposable income of Bahamians. As far as the gambling issue is concerned, when the question of the referendum came up I had the right to vote for it or against it. I voted against gambling. I was very surprised that the Government decided, after the people voted against gambling, to make it legal. It seems as though our vote didn't count."
Mr Roker added: "If you go to a Family Island like Long Island you can see the absolute disaster gambling is causing the island. As citizens and stakeholders we have to be mindful and see what gambling in the form we see now is doing to our people."
The present tax structure requires web shop operators to pay 11 percent on taxable revenue or 25 percent of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation or amortisation), whichever is greater. However, under the proposed new 'sliding scale' they will pay:
• Up to $20m in revenue, a rate of 20 percent.
• Between $20m and $40m, a rate of 25 percent.
• Between $40m and $60m, a rate of 30 percent.
• Between $60m and $80m, a rate of 35 percent.
• Between $80m and $100m, a rate of 40 percent.
• Over $100m, a rate of 50 percent.
The Bahamas Gaming Operators Association, in a furious post-budget counter-attack, has threatened legal action over the "expropriatory, discriminatory, excessive and penal" tax rises. Still, Mr Roker argued that even with the steep taxes being assessed, web shop gaming should be a "no, no".
"The government needs to come out and give a detailed audit of this gambling issue. It appears that this gambling issue is a runaway type situation," he said. "It's like a tsunami has hit us and we don't know the end result, but we know that it's not going to be a good one.
"My personal concern is truly the form of gambling. In my opinion, a simple government lottery from which monies could go towards, hospitals, education, sports and the like would suffice. Gambling in the form we see it now is a no no, even with the taxes."
As for the government's decision to introduce Value-Added Tax (VAT) at a rate of 12 percent, Mr Roker said: "We now have 12 percent VAT in our face. That's an enormous amount of money. There are no if's, and's or but's about that."
Mr Roker estimated that roughly 75 percent of Bahamians are what he described as "financially deprived". He added that increased taxes would likely fall on the backs of those who could least afford them.
Still, Mr Roker argued that Bahamians must come to grips with the reality that taxes are necessary. "There is a new day in this country. Bahamians must pay their taxes and utilities or they will not exist as business people," he said.