November 02, 2012
PM Christie announced webshop licenses start at $1 Million By: Gena Gibbs BAHAMAS INFORMATION SERVICES
(Nassau, Bahamas) Gambling legalization for web shop gaming owners will finalize a new source of Government revenue and will facilitate new areas for local employment. Prime Minister Christie stated that a license fee, in an amount to be determined – but certainly not less than $1 Million – coupled with a performance bond would be required to be put up upon the award of a license. He also said this would be in addition to the annual taxes that would be payable, based on the revenues of the licensed web shops, similar to the taxation structure that applies to casinos.
“The Bahamian people are aware from previous public pronouncements made by me, including my Communication to this Honourable House on the 8th August, that it has always been the intention of my Government to proceed with a national referendum on the subject of so-called web-café or webshop gaming after the bye-election in North Abaco would have run its course. Now that we have indeed passed that milestone, I am pleased to announce that a national referendum will indeed be held on 3rd December 2012,” said the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
“The referendum will put to the Bahamian people the question as to whether they feel that so-called “web café” or “web shop” gaming should be legalized subject to strict licensing and bonding requirements, stringent regulatory supervision, and the payment by licensed operators of substantial license fees and taxes.“
On November 1, 2012, the Government announced in the upstairs floor of the House of Assembly (HOA) on Bay Street around 11:00 a.m. and confirmed it will move forward to pose the referendum question to the Bahamian people on December 3rd, 2012. Finally, the debate concerning legitimizing a cultural nuance of “buying numbers” and transforming the practice into a sustainable financial stream of investment to provide civic improvements through educational scholarships and cultural development funding. PM Christie also stated that in addition to paying such license fees and taxes, web shops would also be required to contribute to the cost of implementing the new laws and regulations for web shops.
“The proceeds of which would be primarily used to help fund educational scholarships, athletic and sporting development, the development of music and the arts including junkanoo, and a broad range of essential community, health, infrastructural, recreational and social outreach facilities and programmes, both public and private, throughout the Bahamas,” said PM Christie.
The Government agreed that it would use “web shop” gaming, as the precise phrase to identify “the style of gaming” in the question put before referendum voters. PM Christie said that the new phrase will clearly be associated with “numbers buying” activities and will be identified with the referendum itself and the only referendum question that will be asked will be relative only to web cafés or web shops.
“Based on the considered advice of the Government’s UK-based international specialist consultants, it is no longer considered that a national lottery would be commercially viable at this time. Thus, lotteries will continue to be illegal for the indefinite future unless, of course, certificates of exemption are issued from time to time under the Lotteries & Gaming Act, as indeed has been the historical practice for special, single-event purposes considered worthy by the competent authority, such as church bazaar raffles and the like,” said PM Christie.
“Similarly, neither the extension of casino gambling nor the removal of the prohibition on casino gambling by Bahamian citizens and residents will be the subject of the forthcoming referendum. Thus, the conduct of casino gambling will continue to be unlawful for the indefinite future unless a Casino License is issued in accordance with the Lotteries & Gaming Act – and I hasten to add that no additional Casino Licences are contemplated at this time. To be completely clear, therefore, the forthcoming referendum will focus only on web shop gaming.”
PM Christie recalled from his earlier Communication on web shop gaming that various public interest matters were important to settle before setting a date for the referendum. He repeated the relevance of his previous communication by using broad terms to define the boundaries of the referendum after Bahamians vote “Yes” or “No” on December 3rd. PM Christie explains the voting process on the up coming Referendum Day.
“Firstly, I re-iterate that my Government and Party will maintain a position of complete neutrality on the referendum question. We will not campaign for or against either side to the question, nor will we offer any encouragement for either a YES vote or a NO vote. We are going to stay out of the fray and let the Bahamian people decide what they want without any cajoling or coaxing one way or the other,” said PM Christie.
“Secondly, I repeat what was also said in my previous communication concerning the balloting process for the referendum, namely, that each voter will be handed a ballot paper upon which he will mark an ‘X’ in either the YES box or the NO box, using the pencil provided. This marking will be done in the usual secrecy of the voter’s booth. Just as is done in a regular election, the voter will then fold his ballot paper and drop it in the ballot box provided. At the end of the balloting process, when the polls close, all the ballots will be counted at each polling place and the results will be publicly declared.”
In addition, the same general elections rules will apply to the referendum, except that voters will be voting for a definition of civic principles, rather than for a candidate to represent their community. The point is that there is one YES or NO question to answer. The Parliamentary Commissioner’s Office will make public announcements to inform the public about registering new voters, locating polling places that will be set up to accommodate voters in the referendum and other procedures taking place on Referendum Day.
“Further, unlike a General Election where each voter casts his or her ballot for the candidate of his or her choice in the constituency in which the voter ordinarily resides, the referendum will not be constituency-based at all. Instead, voters will be choosing to either answer YES or NO to the same one question that voters all over the country will be asking,” said PM Christie.
“As to eligibility to vote in the referendum, the same persons who were eligible to vote in the last General Election, whether they did so or not, will be eligible to vote in the referendum as well. There will be no need to register again. As for persons who were not registered to vote in the last General Election but who may wish to vote in the referendum, they, too, will be able to vote in the referendum provided that they register at least 10 days prior to the date fixed for the referendum. This is specifically provided for in the Constitutional Referendum Act.”
PM Christie explained what the public can expect to happen after the referendum is over and the YES or NO votes are cast and divided into a determined majority and minority consensus. If the people vote YES, in order to qualify for a web shop license, applicants would have to meet stringent criteria, including possessing the necessary financial resources, and having the organizational capacity and internal controls needed to operate in an efficient, responsible and transparent manner.
“In the event that the referendum question passes and the Bahamian people vote YES, the Bahamian people would thereby have given the Government a clear mandate to proceed with the necessary legislation for the legalization, licensing, regulation, and taxation of web cafes or web shops. I hasten to add, however, that not all existing web shops would be legalized. Instead, it would only be those that are duly licensed in due course,” said PM Christie.
“In this regard, I wish to make it clear that in the event that the referendum question passes, it would be the policy of my Government to limit web shop licenses to a small number. This would also help ensure that the regulatory infrastructure of the Gaming Board – which I confirm would be the regulator of the licensed web shops – is up to the task of adequately monitoring and regulating web shop operations. I also need to make it clear that all unlicensed operators of web shops would be closed down and their owners and operators prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
PM Christie said that licensees would also be required, as a condition of their licenses, to introduce and maintain, at their own expense, programmes to help protect players from gambling addiction and to help in the treatment and rehabilitation of such persons, including ensuring, as far as practicable, that they are barred from accessing web shops in the future.
Mr. Christie also defined the moral responsibility of web shops to protect their businesses from becoming a public enemy, contributing to clinical addiction and depression, as well as becoming vulnerable to money laundering schemes, or unconscionable criminal behaviour that jeopardizes the safety of community residents. He stated that web shop operators caught engaging in money laundering can look forward to facing criminal prosecution, losing their licenses, and being shut down completely.
“Similarly, licensees would be required to institute and maintain measures, approved of by the Gaming Board, to ensure that as far as practicable persons who are not of legal age are denied access to web shops. In a further effort to protect customers, web shops would also be restricted to offering games obtained from suppliers approved by the Gaming Board to ensure that the games are fair. The Gaming Board would act as an impartial arbitrator of any unresolved complaints against licensed web shops. Both parties to a dispute would also have the ultimate right to appeal to the courts,” said PM Christie.
“Like the casinos, licenced web shops would be subject to stringent regulation by the Gaming Board, not only to better promote fairness but also to ensure that national and international anti-money laundering standards are scrupulously adhered to in practice. This is a matter of the first importance. Accordingly, in the event that web café gaming is approved in the referendum, great care will be taken to adapt the existing raft of anti-money laundering regulations in our country in a way that would ensure the effective monitoring, control and suppression of money-laundering in all its myriad forms in relation to web shop operations. We simply cannot afford to compromise, or put at risk, the hard-won standing we have achieved in the global financial services community. Our commitment to the most rigourous anti-money laundering regime possible will therefore be resolute and unbending in relation to web shop gaming.”
PM Christie drew Parliamentarians into the beneficial reality of attracting public support for establishing web shop gaming regulations. The bottom line of its anticipated tax revenues would initially generate about $15 to $20 Million in annual tax revenues. The revenues are expected to be earmarked for use in helping to fund educational scholarships, athletic and sporting development, the development of music and the arts, including junkanoo, and a broad range of essential community, health, infrastructural, recreational, and social outreach facilities and programmes, both public and private, throughout The Bahamas.
“All of what I have just outlined will, of course, come to nothing if the Bahamian people vote NO in the referendum. In that event, the Government will act in furtherance of the expressed will of the electorate and take all necessary steps to ensure that our gaming laws are enforced, and that the transgressors of those laws are dealt with in full accordance with those laws,” said PM Christie.
The Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, delivers his Communication on the Referendum on Web Shop Gaming on November 1, 2012 in the House of Assembly on Bay Street (BIS Photo / Gena Gibbs).
Environment Minister Ken Dorsett, Legal Affairs Minister Damien Gomez, and Investments Minister Khaalis Rolle reflect on PM Christie's address about protecting the web shop industry with moral codes of conduct (BIS Photo / Gena Gibbs).
The Hon. Khaalis Rolle Investments Minister Khaalis Rolle listens to PM Christie give communication on webshop gaming referendum (BIS Photo / Gena Gibbs).
Trade and Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder listens to PM Christie reveal the tax revenue expectations (BIS Photo / Gena Gibbs).