The government’s proposed increase in taxes for gaming houses has nothing to do with “racism, discrimination, any personal vendetta” or intent to put gaming operators out of business, Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said yesterday.
Turnquest said the increase has to do with “equity”.
He announced last week that gaming house activities will be taxed “through the introduction of a sliding scale of rates applied to taxable revenue”.
Gaming houses that make revenues up to $20 million will be taxed at a rate of 20 percent; those that make between $20 million and $40 million will be taxed at a rate of 25 percent; those that make between $40 million and $60 million at a rate of 30 percent; those making between $60 million and $80 million at a rate of 35 percent; those making between $80 million and $100 million at a rate of 40 percent and the gaming houses bringing in more than $100 million at 50 percent.
The government has also proposed taxing gaming patrons through a five percent stamp tax applied on deposits and any non-online games or digital sales.
But the Bahamas Gaming Operators Association (BGOA) claimed the gaming houses are being targeted for racial reasons and said gaming house operators are being singled out because many of them are young, black and run efficient and profitable businesses.
During his contribution to the budget debate, Turnquest said, “I don’t know how I can be racist towards a black person when I myself am a black person.
“Now, I love me. I could lose little bit of weight but other than that. I don’t know why they want to put race in this. This has nothing to do with race, absolutely nothing to do with race.
“What this has to do with is creating equity. At the end of the day, particularly in the Family Islands and I’m sure Exuma (Chester Cooper) knows this and Cat Island (Philip Brave Davis) knows this, this business has caused significant hardship in a lot of communities.
“It is a practical point. In the Family Islands they fish, they farm or work for government. That’s about the size of it. There isn’t much else. When these people earn their money and they go into the web shops and they spin it out or they whatever they do, they gamble it out… there is a big sucking thing that happens.
“These web shops, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, for the most part they are not taking that money and investing it back into these communities, in these islands. They bring the money to Nassau or take it wherever they take it.
“What’s left in these islands; nothing but hardship and misery and people who can’t make their ends meet.”
Turnquest said that compared to gaming taxes around the world, the proposed sliding scale tax for Bahamian gaming operators is “incredibly low”.
He said the increased taxes will be “fair” to the gaming operators, the players and the state.
“They are going to make still a serious profit,” he argued.
“Yes, they are going to make less than they made before, but they are still going to make plenty money.”
But FML Group of Companies CEO Craig Flowers said the increased tax is a “death warrant” for the industry.
“It is no way, it is no possible way that any of the existing web shops can continue to operate with any profit margin to take care of themselves and their expenses if these taxes are implemented,” he has said.