Casino Reforms To Give Bahamas Hotels A Competitive Edge

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Proposed reforms to the Bahamas' casino gaming regulations will "make a significant difference" if they are all enacted, the minister of tourism yesterday saying they would make this nation more competitive and give it a potential "tie breaker" over rival destinations.

The legislative and regulatory amendments, awaited for more than a year by the Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA) and casino gaming regulations, are now contained in a "massive document" that Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace hopes to place before Cabinet soon.

Acknowledging the difficulty in getting important items on the Government and Cabinet agenda, especially given the current focus on crime-related legislation, the minister of tourism said the proposed gaming reforms would both modernise the regulatory framework and enhance the competitiveness of Bahamian casinos.

Conceding that the Bahamas had in the past neglected certain components of its tourism offering, such as gaming, simply because there was little to no competition, Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said it could not afford to ignore "any element" that might create a "tie breaker" in favour of a rival jurisdiction.

"I have that massive document in front of me as we speak," Mr Vanderpool-Wallace told Tribune Business, when questioned as to the status of casino gaming regulatory reform.

"It hasn't been put forward yet, but it's quite a lengthy thing because there are so many bits and pieces under consideration. The next step is putting it out to the Government [Cabinet] for consideration. They haven't seen it as yet."

Emphasising that he had "no control whatsoever" of when the Ingraham Cabinet might consider the lengthy reform proposals, Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said: "There are a whole number of things ahead of that on the agenda. That's what we are facing in terms of getting some of these items down the pipeline."

While declining to detail the reforms under scrutiny, the minister told Tribune Business: "A lot of the recommendations are ones that will certainly modernise what it is we are doing, and the key part is doing those things that make us a lot more competitive.

"Between those two buckets of things is what these proposals address - modernising the gaming laws and making us more competitive. It's a whole series of items requested by the industry; some of it we have accepted, and some of it we have modernised."

The minister said he expected a favourable reaction to the proposed reforms from the private sector, given that a "substantial proportion" originated from the industry. "We did not invent them ourselves," he added.

In a previous interview with Tribune Business, Robert Sands, Baha Mar's senior vice-president of governmental and external affairs, said that among the reforms proposed by the BHA and casino sector were widening "the net of those allowed to gamble to permanent residents and junket representatives - entertainers on short-term work permits".

Other reforms involve the approval process for investment in the casino industry, and movement of table games and slot machines.

Mr Vanderpool-Wallace told Tribune Business that in relation to the reform proposals "the competitive side of it is more important", given that the world had "changed dramatically" since the Bahamas' original gaming regulatory framework was implemented, with increased competition from a variety of US, Caribbean and global destinations for the same customer.

"Nowadays, every little piece is very important," Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said of the tourism product. "There was a time when we didn't pay attention to some components of our tourism offering because they weren't many people doing the same thing.

"Now, there is no element we can leave neglected. We see all these things as tie breakers.

"There's so much competition out there that no element can be allowed to break the tie between you and other destinations. We do not want to miss out on any of these tie breakers, so they all become very important."

Telling this newspaper that the Government and private sector had done "a great job" in drawing up the reforms to date, Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said: "I think we will make a significant difference, provided we get the whole suite of proposals put forward.

"It's not just the stuff in Parliament.

"There's a whole host of other things the Government is working on.

"We've never worked harder in terms of the things we're trying to do."

The Tribune
Published On:Thursday, October 20, 2011