Trinidad and Tobago’s gambling industry says six small casino operators have decided to shut down since the government announced plans to double their taxes and more closures will follow unless the government reverses course.
Earlier this week, T&T Finance Minister Colm Imbert unveiled the government’s 2017-18 budget, which included a new 10% tax on lottery winnings while doubling fees and taxes on casinos and other land-based gambling operations effective January 2018.
The T&T Private Members’ Clubs Association (TTMCA) was quick to warn Imbert that the new rules would result in many operators choosing to close up shop and TTMCA president Sherry Bersad says “at least six small clubs” had expressed their intention to wrap up operations at a two-hour emergency meeting on Tuesday.
Bersad said the gaming industry directly employed 9k workers on the islands while an additional 30k residents indirectly depend on the local gaming industry. Bersad claims larger gaming operators are talking about downsizing, and thousands of gaming jobs are under threat unless the government backtracks on its tax grab.
The TTMCA has requested an urgent meeting with Imbert and Prime Minister Keith Rowley to discuss the matter, while Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been asked to withhold support for the budget until the gaming issue can be more closely examined.
Bersad’s group has been liaising with the Union of Members’ Clubs and Lottery Workers (UMCLW), whose vice-president Sean Clarke told the Guardian that “the present economic crisis cannot be solved by unreasonably taxing the gaming industry.”
To justify the tax hikes, Imbert had claimed that 90% of the local gaming industry were tax scofflaws but Clarke claimed that legitimate operators didn’t object to paying taxes. Clarke suggested that the government focus its efforts against what he claimed was a proliferation of illegal Chinese-run gambling operations in restaurants and supermarkets, some of which “even have the police working with them.”
The Amusement Gaming Association of Trinidad and Tobago (AGATT) has also stated its opposition to the tax changes. The group’s Russel Bahadoorsingh echoed claims regarding illegal foreign nationals, saying these untaxed operations had contributed to steady revenue declines at legitimate operators, which further eroded the government’s share of gambling proceeds.