Bermuda Lawmakers Approve New Gambling Regs, are No Closer to Casino

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Posted on: March 28, 2023, 07:46h. 

Last updated on: March 28, 2023, 12:49h.

After years of virtual silence on the topic of casinos in Bermuda, the subject has been a regular fixture over the past few months. After losing one potential casino that was tired of waiting, the government is making gambling a priority. Lawmakers are ready to push it forward. But if certain politicians have their way, the British Overseas Territory (BOT) is no closer to seeing any casinos.

Bermuda's Parliament in Hamilton
Bermuda’s Parliament in Hamilton. The Senate approved a bill to amend the territory’s gaming regulations, but there doesn’t appear to be a final resolution on the table. (Image: Flickr)

At the end of last week, according to Bermuda’s Royal Gazette, parliamentarians in Bermuda’s Senate approved a bill that better defines the finance minister’s role in gambling. This has been a subject of controversy, as some lawmakers, and even the former head of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission (BCGC), have called for the ministry to stay out of gambling regulations.

Premier David Burt supports the bill, a response to concerns over wide-reaching government influence in gambling. Burt is also Bermuda’s Minister of Finance and previously oversaw tourism as well. That, according to some legislators, was too much centralized control.

Shifting the Paradigm

Burt eventually gave up control over tourism, a decision that local banks suggested would help facilitate the implementation of payment channels for casinos in 2020. Almost three years later, there has been little progress. The banks moved the goalposts after Burt made the change, and the debate rages on.

The latest changes to the gambling legislation will give even more control over the casinos to the BCGC. It now has greater oversight over the establishment of gaming requirements and anti-money laundering regulations.

Debates during discussion of the bill show there is still a divide among politicians over the direction of the BCGC. One lawmaker, Jarion Richardson, doesn’t believe the commission should be able to establish those policies. He stated that this would only lead to “damning consequences,” per the Royal Gazette.

Zane DeSilva, another MP and the Minister of Tourism and Transport appointed by Burt, supports the new legislation and the BCGC. The regulator has 11 employees, with no casino on the immediate horizon, and DeSilva stated that they “make up a pretty good team.” The government recently approved a $9.8-million guarantee for the BCGC as part of its latest budget.

Shadow Minister of Public Works and Tourism Craig Cannonier expressed his concern over the government’s lack of gambling progress. He pointed out that other Caribbean resorts were able to bring casinos to life while Bermuda remains stagnant.

Another politician, Anthony Richardson, said the lack of progress was the regulator’s fault. He asserted that the delays were the result of “the independence of the commission.”

Opposition Remains Strong

It’s clear that the real source of the issue is political infighting and an inability to find a common ground. The government is divided into two camps, and the opposition holds enough power to keep casino gambling from moving forward.

Opposition MP Scott Pearman doesn’t want Bermuda’s Premier, or any leader of the BOT, to have a hand in casino gaming. He hinted the opposition might back support of the initiative only if Burt renounced his role as Finance Minister.

Pearman added that the bill solves nothing before exclaiming, “The only games that seem to be played are the games around this room.”

Burt has conceded that sticking to the integrated resort model of casino gambling may not have been the wisest move. This position is relaxed in the new legislation, which could help to win over some opponents.

The bill specifies the possibility of “smaller, amenity-style casinos,” but doesn’t mention how licenses would work. Based on the continuing battle between politicians, it might be a moot point for now, anyway.

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