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Gaming houses: Is govt seeking to eliminate COVID-19 or our business?

May 12, 2020

Paige McCartney

Gaming house operators yesterday said they were confused by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ announcement on Sunday that in-home delivery and curbside pickup services do not apply to gaming house operators and questioned if the government is seeking to eliminate “COVID-19 or only a certain type of business”.

During his address to the nation, Minnis said the recent relaxation of restrictions announced in the May 4 emergency order amendments, which allowed businesses offering delivery and curbside pickup services to reopen, were never intended to apply to the operations of gaming houses.

In response, the Bahamas Gaming Operators Association (BGOA) noted that after a week of offering curbside and drive-through-only services and strictly adhering to social distancing and sanitation protocols, gaming houses have not been consulted or asked for their input.

“The domestic gaming industry operators are licensed entities operating in a highly regulated environment and pay tens of millions of dollars in taxes and fees to the government on an annual basis,” the BGOA noted in a statement.

“We, therefore, have to ask a few serious questions, like: What are we seeking to eliminate, COVID-19 or only a certain type of business? Is the public health risk the transaction or the business doing a certain type of transaction?

“If any sector in The Bahamas was more advanced and equipped technologically to offer such a service while maintaining strict adherence to social and sanitation protocols, it would be domestic gaming.”

Immediately following the prime minister’s announcement, Island Luck Chief Executive Officer Sebas Bastian said the prime minister was again singling out the gaming industry. It’s a sentiment shared by his business colleagues and the BGOA noted seemingly “favorable treatment” for other similar sectors.

“The BGOA again observed the preferential treatment being made to some sectors like the liquor establishments. It was the public health officials’ previous recommendation that due to the high level of comorbidity or underlying health conditions (i.e. hypertension, diabetes) resident amongst a high number of our citizens that consumption of alcohol may have led to an increased risk of COVID-19 cases, due to the potential weakening of one’s immune system. We wonder if the data has now changed relative to that public health safety position,” the group stated.

“This then begs the question of what are the public health concerns for not allowing curbside service for domestic gaming operations, which were limited to deposits, withdrawals, over-the-counter ticket sales and bill payments? Patrons were not allowed to enter any gaming establishment or engage in physical gaming activity other than through online means. Clearly, as a sector, we have not been consulted or asked for our input as to how we would have offered our curbside or drive-through services.”

Gaming houses employ in excess of 3,000 Bahamians and with unemployment projected to reach higher than 30 percent, the BGOA stated that it hopes to meet with the competent authority to discuss how the industry can assist in easing the looming economic crisis.
“We employ in excess of 3,000 Bahamians, many of whom were excited to return to work, regain their ability to earn an income and meet their personal and family obligations. However, just after a week of offering curbside and drive-through-only services and strictly adhering to the social distancing and sanitation protocols, their hopes have been dashed once again,” the BGOA pointed out.

“The same is now leading to a ballooning unemployment rate set to exceed 30 percent or more than 51,000 Bahamians, from an already challenged private sector labor force. This deep and rapid rise in severe economic hardships and an increase in the misery index is very real for so many.”

Last week, gaming house operators also spoke out against the industry not being included in a list of companies adversely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis that are eligible for tax credits and concessions.