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House to debate gaming amendments today

The government yesterday tabled amendments to the Gaming Bill that would empower the Gaming Board to have jurisdiction over any and all gambling operations, whether licensed or unlicensed. 

“We are creating a new investigatory arm of the Gaming Board designed to go after those persons who would seek to set up unlawful-based type gaming, using iPads, cell phones, other computer access, to place numbers bets on the internet,” Attorney General Carl Bethel told reporters in the foyer of the House of Assembly yesterday. 

“The bill is going to create a framework where an investigatory agency within the Gaming Board is able to pursue illegal operatives, particularly on the numbers side and those who are offering illegal internet gaming-based sites et cetera, to go after their service, to go after the internet service providers to cause [them] to shut down their access to the internet [and] in other words to disrupt wherever possible and at all costs, all illegal operators. 

“The bill also, to empower the Gaming Board to do this, reverses the policy in the former Gaming Act which was that the Gaming Board only had jurisdiction over the licensed operators.

“This bill will give the Gaming Board the old jurisdiction it once enjoyed before the last government legalized domestic gaming – which is jurisdiction over any and all gambling operations that may have been either licensed or unlicensed in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”

Bethel said the government will have to beef up the staff of the Gaming Board with qualified investigators, former police officers and individuals with IT skills. 

“Anyone can do what they want to do with their own phone, anyone can do what they want to do personally, but when you make it your business to take this phone, go around and solicit bets and place them illegally on a foreign betting site, then you are breaking Bahamian law and you are money laundering,” he added.

“You are moving money out of the country and when it comes back in you are not disclosing where you got it from and that itself is a crime.” 

New tax structure

Last May, the government announced a sliding scale tax on gaming house revenues and a five percent stamp tax on deposits.

Legal action from gaming operators forced the government to abandon that tax structure and come up with an alternative.

The government and gaming house operators have since agreed to a new scale, which will tax gaming houses with net taxable revenue from $0 to $24 million at a rate of 15 percent, and those with net taxable revenue over $24 million at a rate of 17.5 percent.

Additionally, a five percent tax on winnings up to $1,000 and a 7.5 percent tax on winnings over $1,000 will be implemented.

“What the bill will do, in our view, for the foreseeable future, is set up a structure of gaming taxation that we believe will stand the test of time,” Bethel explained.

“We worked very hard on it. We did a lot of research. We had a lot of consultation as the best way to structure these taxes and the way to impose them.”

He said that once there is an agreed structure of taxation on the gaming industry, should the need arise, the government has flexibility to increase or decrease the sliding scale.

“There’s been extensive dialogue with the gaming houses,” Bethel continued.

“You have to understand, the Bahamian people have to understand, that the nature of the industry that we have in the country today is small but it is diverse within its smallness.”

He noted that with two of the gaming houses being large players and the others being very small in terms of size and turnover, it has been difficult to determine how to apply the tax fairly among the variations. 

“The second problem is, there is a further subdivision in the industry,” Bethel said.

“At least one player is 90 percent only in lottery games. So, there are questions on how to avoid a disproportionate impact on one, while also spreading the burden across the whole industry.” 

Members of Parliament are expected to debate the bill today.