yet to meet with the heads of the local gaming industry on its proposed sliding scale tax increase, Deputy Prime Minister and Minster of Finance Peter Turnquest said yesterday, adding that the Bahamas Gaming Operators Association (BGOA) has threatened legal action and thus there might not be the need for a meeting.
However, Turnquest said the government is not averse to meeting with the heads of the industry, while also insisting that the government will not change its position on the tax increase.
“We have not met with the gaming houses as yet,” Turnquest said during an interview outside the Cabinet Office.
“As you know, they have written a letter which can be considered a threat, and because they have threatened legal action, that is a matter for the attorney general’s office. He is going to have to look at it and respond to them accordingly.
“We have no difficulty meeting with them and discussing a rational way forward with respect to the industry and what we are looking at with respect to the position we have taken. We believe that it is fair.”
Turnquest said the proposed tax on the gaming industry is “graduated” and will not represent more than a nine percent increase for any of the houses. However, gaming houses have produced reports suggesting the domestic gaming industry will take a significant hit under the government’s new tax regime, leading to the potential closure of several operators.
Turnquest said the tax is fair given what the industry takes away from the communities they operate in.
“We are at this point only trying to create equity in the system, between the players, the operators, as well as the government,” Turnquest said.
“It cannot be right that seven operators benefit significantly to the expense of the government and the people, and so we are just trying to create equity.”
Calvin Wilson, the immediate past executive director of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), wrote a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis warning that the
government’s actions could lead to the expansion of the unregulated gaming market and have “potential negative implications for The Bahamas’ international reputation”.
While Turnquest said he has not seen the letter, Attorney General Carl Bethel called the letter “very peculiar”, and added that it contains “spurious and false” claims.
“I was on the first list of persons copied on it, the prime minister, myself and Alfred Sears,” said Bethel.
“I believe Alfred is the lawyer for the gaming people… I have nothing further to say on the letter,” he said.
Turnquest added: “It is an unfortunate situation that people would even suggest that they would take their business underground, knowing the potential effect that would have, not just on the government, but on this whole country, and what it represents to us in terms of the future of other legitimate businesses we are involved in and what we are trying to do.