Bermuda has approved a controversial amendment to its gambling legislation that critics claim concentrates too much regulatory power in too few hands.
On Friday night, Bermuda’s parliament approved the Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2017, which was introduced by the ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP) in November. The vote was cast along strict party lines, with members of the opposition One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) party all voting against the Act.
The primary function of the bill is to require the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission (BCGC) to follow “general directions” on gaming policy put forward by Jamahl Simmons (pictured), the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism. The Minister would also have the authority to replace BCGC members as the Minister “considers appropriate.”
Gaming industry stakeholders and OBA MPs had protested these changes, saying the amended Act would neuter the formerly independent BCGC by making it a slave to the whims and wishes of the minister.
BCGC chairman Alan Dunch, who only recently replaced the outgoing Richard Schuetz, resigned last month after the Act was introduced. Dunch’s deputy, Gerry Madeiros, followed his former boss out the door last week, as did commissioner Derek Ramm, leaving just two commissioners in place. Magistrate Cheryl Ann Mapp has been tapped to replace Dunch as chairman.
Bermuda is currently vetting applicants for the Caribbean nation’s first licensed casino operations. Critics say the Act allows Simmons a free hand in picking casino winners and losers, but Simmons told reporters that the Act “will not allow me to decide who gets casino licenses,” nor will it allow him (or future Ministers) “to interfere with corruption investigations.”
Prior to Friday’s vote, Simmons amended the Act to “provide specific conditions” on the Minister’s ability to fire BCGC commissioners, while requiring that dismissal orders be provided in writing “to ensure that there is a clear and unambiguous record of any directions provided by the Minister.”
Simmons claimed these late tweaks would preserve “the intent of an independent Commission and prevents the arbitrary, unjustified removal of members” of the BCGC.
Unimpressed by these assurances, former Bermuda premier Michael Dunkley added his name to those opposed to the changes. Dunkley insisted that the BCGC needed to be “as apolitical as possible” and warned that the transfer of power to the Minister would “backfire” on the PLP.
Dunkley said “the future for gaming looks bleak” under the new regime, while wondering why the PLP didn’t suggest imposing top-down control of the BCGC when the OBA government proposed its original gaming legislation three years ago.