By Fay Simmons
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Deputy Prime Minister yesterday said recommendations to upgrade The Bahamas' gaming laws will be assessed and consulted on over the "next several months" in a bid to enhance the sector's competitiveness.
Chester Cooper, also minister of tourism, investments and aviation, told the Caribbean Gaming Show and Regulator’s Forum during his keynote address that the reforms are critical to providing better protection for gaming patrons, enhancing growth prospects for web shops and hotel casinos, and ensuring The Bahamas remains compliant with international best practices.
"In recent years, our Gaming Board has been tasked with reviewing and modernising our current gaming laws to ensure that they remain relevant and effective. And, over the course of the next several weeks and months, we will continue to review the recommendations from the Board, and feedback from the stakeholders in the industry, to determine what future adjustments and amendments we will make in our current legislative framework," he said.
"This process is crucial for providing patron protection, adhering to international best practice, and giving both land-based and domestic gaming operators the legislative framework they need to support growth and sustainability.”
Mr Cooper maintained that with the rise in popularity of online and digital games, the regulatory regime for both casinos and domestic gaming houses must be overhauled - and continuously evolve - to stay abreast of ever-changing trends.
He said: “In the digital sphere, innovations such as the rapid adoption of i-gaming and online sports books have dramatically altered the landscape. According to the American Gaming Association, US gaming in 2022 tallied a record $60bn in revenues, with sports betting generating $7.5bn and online betting adding another $5bn.
“While traditional slot machines and gaming tables experienced a bump in revenues in 2022, industry experts predict that the popularity of these types of games may wane in the long-term, particularly as the demographic trends for this type of gaming are geared towards an older population.
"Younger demographics will still be drawn to the casino experience, but significant numbers will drift towards online gaming and sports books. Therefore, key challenges in our current regime will have to be addressed. Digitally, both areas of gaming in The Bahamas can see development that will grow the overall industry.”
Mr Cooper said the benefits of incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into the gaming model could help attract gaming tourists and ensure fair play. “Offerings such as virtual reality gaming allow us to utilize AI and emerging technologies to add to players' experiences," he added. "AI, in fact, has the potential to revolutionise gaming by offering personalised experiences, optimising game design and enhancing security measures.
"AI can analyse player behaviour and preferences to tailor gaming experiences, ensuring higher levels of engagement and satisfaction. Additionally, AI can be used to detect and prevent fraud, ensuring fair play and protecting both operators and patrons. And, most importantly, AI can be that tool that will cause us to attract the type of patrons to our jurisdictions that we need and want.”
While acknowledging that physical gaming will always have a market, Mr Cooper asserted that the industry must be innovative in order to maintain its competitiveness.
He said: “Visceral brick and mortar casino games remain incredibly popular, providing players with an authentic gaming casino experience [and] luxury destination accommodations. The interaction with a live dealer and other players still is a thrill to be branded and marketed.
"However, we foreshadow that these experiences can be enhanced, and we must work smartly to develop a regulatory framework that is cutting edge and safeguard all stakeholders. We must be more innovative today than we have ever been if we are going to sustain our growth. And we want to continue the phenomenal growth, and the vibrancy of gaming, that we have come to know in the Bahamas, in the region and around the world.
“The industry has contributed significantly to the overall tourism product in The Bahamas. It has created jobs, spurred economic growth and attracted visitors from around the world. It has further solidified The Bahamas as premier destination for both leisure and for entertainment," Mr Cooper said.
"We are well-positioned to remain competitive in the global market. And by staying informed, and adapting our regulations to the pace of innovation, including the integration of AI, we can ensure the long-term success and sustainability of this vital sector of our economy.”