Nassau, Bahamas – Statement by The Honourable Obediah H. Wilchcombe, M.P., Minister of Tourism, on Commencement of New Gaming Legislation made on November 19, 2014:
Today it gives me great pleasure as the Minister responsible for gaming, to announce the imminent coming into operation of the Gaming Act, 2014, the Gaming Regulations, 2014, the Gaming House Operator Regulations, 2014, the Financial Transactions Reporting (Amendment) Act, 2014, the Financial Transactions Reporting (Gaming) Regulations, 2014 and the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act, 2014.
This comprehensive cutting edge legislation sets the stage for the modernisation of the gaming industry, regulating and placing casinos in The Bahamas in a position to compete with the world’s leading gaming jurisdictions. At the same time the new legislation sets the stage for the regularisation, licensing and regulation of the web shop industry in The Bahamas.
The procedures which have been developed to manage this process in a streamlined and effective way are the product of careful deliberation and planning, have been meticulously crafted in the legislation, and must be observed in the finest detail. It is therefore of critical importance that not only all web-shop owners, but also the public at large, should be familiar with the action steps which are going to be taken in the next few weeks and months, as we enter this vital transitional period. Becoming familiar with the process is the first step towards ensuring that the requirements of the law are observed, and it is the intention of the Government to see to it that this indeed occurs.
This compendium of new legislation will come into force on Monday, November 24, 2014. Notices of its coming into force will be published in the Gazette and the local press. This date constitutes the starting point for the process of full and frank disclosure by web-shop owners of their past business operations, which is the forerunner to the application and licensing process in respect of gaming houses in The Bahamas. It is critical to note that under the terms of the legislation, all web-shop owners who intend to continue the operation of their existing businesses, after the legislation has come into effect but before gaming house operator and gaming house premises licences are granted, are legally obliged to make payment of arrear taxes in respect of their operations, in respect of the period commencing on July 1 2014 and ending on November 24 2014. These arrear taxes must be paid to the Gaming Board by no later than Monday, December 1 2014. Any failure by a web-shop proprietor to pay these arrear taxes timeously and in full will be grounds for the disqualification of such business for licensing, as well as the disqualification of the owner thereof from participating in a licence bid. Therefore even those web-shop owners who may not yet have made a final decision as to whether they intend to continue their operations during the transitional period are advised to make payment of the arrear taxes, in order to avoid later disqualification for licensing as gaming house operators. Web-shop operators are urged to make contact with the Secretary of the Gaming Board if they have any queries in this regard.
Monday, December 1 2014 is also the date on which web-shop owners are required to make full and frank disclosure of the revenues generated by their past business operations. A notice will be published in the Gazette, and the local press which sets forth the procedure to be followed and the documentation to be submitted for the purposes of the full and frank disclosure process. All web-shop owners are urged to procure a copy of this notice so that they may acquaint themselves fully with the requirements to be enforced. Web-shop owners which do not adhere to the full and frank disclosure process will not qualify for gaming house operator licences.
The legislation provides further that by no later than 14 days after the date of coming into operation of the Gaming Act, that is on Monday December 8 2014, web-shop owners are required to lodge sworn affidavits with the Secretary of the Gaming Board, disclosing whether or not they wish to continue the operation of their businesses during the transitional period. Separate pro forma affidavits have been developed for completion by web-shop owners seeking to continue their business operations during the transitional period and those who elect to cease their operations. These affidavits are annexed to the Gaming House Operator Regulations, to be published in the Gazette by November 25, 2014.
December 8 2014 will be the final cut-off point for the submission of these affidavits to the Secretary of the Gaming Board. Web-shop owners who fail to lodge affidavits by that date will be deemed to have elected to cease the operation of their businesses during the transitional period. The affidavits lodged with the Gaming Board will be made available to the Commissioner of Police by no later than Tuesday, December 9 2014. All web-shop owners who fail to lodge affidavits or who lodge affidavits indicating that they intend ceasing their operations during the transitional period will be obliged to ensure that their businesses are no longer operating with effect from Tuesday, December 9 2014. Because the Commissioner of Police will be in possession of copies of all the affidavits lodged with the Gaming Board, the Royal Bahamas Police Force will be in a position conclusively to determine, on December 9 2014, whether all the businesses which are legally required to be closed have indeed closed their doors for trading. Criminal prosecutions will be instituted in respect of those businesses which see fit to transgress the law in this regard.
On Wednesday, December 17 2014, official notices will be served on web-shop owners who have elected to continue the operation of their businesses during the transitional period. These notices will set forth the quantum of the fees and penalties payable in respect of such businesses under the Gaming Act. A web-shop owner on whom such a notice has been served is required to lodge a certified copy of any such notice with the Secretary of the Gaming Board by no later than December 19 2014. This will enable the Gaming Board to maintain its own record of the quantum of fees and penalties due by each web-shop owner. The latest date for the payment in full of fees and penalties by web-shop owners whose businesses remain open during the transitional period is Monday, January 12 2015, although payments can be made before this date. Any web-shop owner who has remained open for business and who makes payment of the fees and penalties due by him, whether in whole or in part, is required, at the time of making such payment, also to serve a notice on the Secretary of the Gaming Board setting forth the amount of the payment made, the total amount of the fees and penalties for which such person is liable, and any balance which may remain outstanding at the time of payment. This notice must be accompanied by satisfactory documentary proof that the relevant payment has been made.
In the meantime, the Gaming Board will, on December 17 2014, publish a notice in the Gazette, notifying the public of its intention to issue a Request for Proposal (or “RFP”) document. The RFP will invite applications for gaming house operator and gaming house premises licences in The Bahamas. The RFP will be available for purchase from the Secretary of the Gaming Board with effect from Monday, January 5 2015. Only companies which are held 100% by Bahamian citizens who ordinarily reside in The Bahamas will qualify for licensing as a gaming house operator. Each company that intends submitting an application for a gaming house operator licence must purchase a separate RFP document in order to qualify to submit a bid. The closing date for the purchase of an RFP will be Friday, January 9 2015. Every company which purchases an RFP will be registered by the Gaming Board. This registration entitles the relevant entity to apply for a gaming house operator licence. Registrants will be able to submit queries and requests for clarification concerning any aspect of the RFP to the Gaming Board until February 13 2015, and the Gaming Board will circulate the responses to these requests without identifying the registrant which made the request.
The closing date for the submission of applications for gaming house operator and gaming house premises licences will be Friday, February 20 2015. The Secretary of the Gaming Board will publish the identifying particulars of all companies which have applied for these licences in the Gazette by no later than Friday, February 27 2015.
In the interim, the staff of the Gaming Board will conduct detailed probity investigations into the various applicants, with a view to determining whether they qualify for licensing and have submitted applications which meet or exceed the requirements of the legislation and the RFP. The focus and purpose of these investigations is to ensure that the gaming house sector in The Bahamas will be fit and proper for licensing and free of criminal or corruptive elements, as is the case in respect of all industry sectors. It is envisaged, if all goes well, that this process will be concluded by early May 2015, whereafter the adjudication process will commence. Once the final decision has been taken regarding which of the applications have been successful, notices of closure will be served on those businesses in respect of which licences have not been granted. These businesses will then be required to close their doors within seven days of the date of service of the notice of closure.
I wish to remind web shop owners who chose for their businesses to remain open during the transition period, that it will be required that they conduct their affairs in a professional, compliant manner, similar to what would be expected from operators licenced under the Gaming Act. In specific, conduct that subscribes to principles of fair play, timeously honouring pay-outs of customer winnings, and not using tactics to marginalize competing operators. In this regard the Gaming Board will be monitoring operators and the conduct of their businesses during the transition period. Their conduct will be taken into consideration during the licensing process.
The coming into operation of the new gaming legislation, and the licensing and regulation of gaming houses in The Bahamas is a turning point in the history of the domestic gaming sector in The Bahamas. I am confident that with the level of effort and meticulous planning which has gone into the management of the transitional process, and with the cooperation of all stakeholders, the necessary groundwork will have been laid for a thriving, legitimate and socially responsible gaming house industry in The Bahamas. Likewise with the ongoing collaboration and cooperation with casino operators, we look forward to a period of expansion and growth in the existing casinos on Paradise Island, Bimini and Freeport and the opening of Baha Mar’s exciting new casino which will be the largest in the Caribbean.