Leading gaming magazine criticises plans

Plans to give politicians power over Bermuda’s casino industry have come under fire from a leading international publication on gaming.

An opinion piece in GGB News warned giving MPs control over the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission would open the door to corruption and potentially undermine the integrity of the Bermuda Government.

The article, published on Monday, was written by Roger Gros, publisher of Global Gaming Business, which describes itself as the industry’s leading gaming trade publication.

According to the GGB News website, the newsletter is received by nearly 14,000 subscribers, including the chairman, presidents and CEOs of all major gaming operators and suppliers.

The piece also took issue with tourism minister Jamahl Simmons’s claim that amendments to the Casino Gaming Act bring the island in line with international jurisdictions such as Singapore on gambling governance.

The law change, tabled in the House of Assembly on Friday, will also enable Mr Simmons to fire Alan Dunch, the commission chairman he has tried to oust on three previous occasions since the Progressive Labour Party was elected in July.

It came after Mr Dunch questioned the intentions of MM&I Holdings, the firm involved in a controversial bid for a cashless gaming contract worth tens of millions of dollars per year.

The gaming commission believes a deal with MM&I would damage Bermuda’s financial reputation, and has highlighted that individuals from its partner firm, Banyan Gaming, had surrendered their gaming licences in major gambling jurisdictions in the United States.

Mr Simmons has repeatedly refused to say whether the Government is in talks with MM&I. On Friday, he told the House of Assembly the Government was not “currently considering any proposals” from MM&I and/or Banyan.

Regarding Mr Simmons’s claim that the amendment would bring Bermuda in line with other jurisdictions, Mr Gros wrote: “In no respected gaming jurisdiction can the government remove a duly appointed member of a gaming commission without proof of wrongdoing.

“And there are no charges of wrongdoing in the Dunch case. In fact, Simmons has yet to give any reasons why he has thrice attempted to remove Dunch.”

Mr Gros warned the commission would be stripped of its independence if the tourism minister was given the power to fire members who did not follow legal directions issued by the Government.

He wrote: “If that’s independence in Bermuda, some of the world’s most prestigious financial companies that use Bermuda as a home for their subsidiaries should be taking notice.”

After launching a verbal attack on Mr Dunch on Friday, Mr Simmons vowed to work with “partners who are more interested in working together with mutual respect” who are “also committed to upholding Bermuda’s well-earned reputation for being a jurisdiction of impeccable standards of openness, transparency and free of corruption”.

Mr Gros wrote: “But if the Government controls what the commission will or will not approve, this is the definition of corruption. A commission that is dependent upon the Government for its jobs and funding will simply be a rubber stamp for any deal negotiated by the Government along with any strings that are attached to such a deal.

“Perhaps some officials in Bermuda should contact the regulatory boards in New Jersey, Nevada, the United Kingdom or any reputable gaming jurisdiction. Find out what the procedure is in those regions to remove a sitting commissioner. It’s not easy. This measure will do irreparable harm not only to Bermuda gaming but Bermuda business as a whole.”

Most major gaming jurisdictions in the United States — including California, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — allow gaming commissioners to be removed only with cause, or after a vote in the relevant legislative chamber.

Legislation in the United Kingdom allows the Secretary of State to dismiss a commissioner if the secretary thinks the commissioner is unable, unfit or unwilling to perform his/her functions.

Bermuda’s gaming commission was set up two years ago as an independent body to oversee gaming regulations. Mr Dunch, whose contract expires in May 2019, has insisted he will not resign and has said there is no statutory basis upon which he can be removed.

MM&I reached an agreement with the One Bermuda Alliance Government while Mark Pettingill, who represents MM&I, and Mr Pettingill’s business partner, the late Shawn Crockwell, were both in the OBA Cabinet.

The memorandum of understanding was terminated by the OBA in July 2016 under advice from the gaming commission.

The Royal Gazette asked Mr Simmons whether politicians in Singapore have the power to fire gaming commission members without proof of wrongdoing, and whether Singapore or any other jurisdictions give politicians power over gaming commissions.

Mr Simmons said: “The Casino Gaming Amendment 2017 tabled on Friday brings Bermuda in alignment with other jurisdictions in terms of allowing the Government to provide policy direction and allow the minister to remove members of the commission who do not follow legal directions of the Government.

“This mirrors Singapore Gaming Legislation as seen in that jurisdiction’s Casino Control Act (Chapter 33A) Clause 11, Schedule 1.

“It is unfortunate that there remains individuals committed to dragging Bermuda’s reputation through the mud, irrespective of the facts and irrespective of the damage such systematic misinformation campaigns could inflict upon Bermuda.”

We also asked Mr Simmons whether it was true he declared “unequivocal confidence, support and enthusiasm” for Mr Dunch just weeks before trying to fire him “out of the blue” on August 10; and why the PLP promoted representatives connected to MM&I and Banyan as “experts” in problem gaming at its public forum earlier this year.

Shadow tourism minister Leah Scott claimed at the weekend that Mr Simmons’s proposed amendment raised “grave ethical concerns”.

The OBA politician said: “I am extremely disappointed in the minister’s decision to table a piece of legislation which now gives him the power to, in essence, interfere with the control and independence of the casino gaming commission.

“It was always intended that the commission was to be free from ministerial and political interference. The minister has yet to produce any evidence of wrongdoing or malfeasance by the commission’s chairman Alan Dunch. What is the real catalyst for this persistent pursuit?”

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[“Source-royalgazette”]