Tourism Minister Jamahl Simmons tabled legislation on Friday that gives him the power to sack Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission Chairman Alan Dunch.
The move came amid what the Minister termed “misinformation”, on the controversial multi-million dollar gaming contract bid by MM&I Holdings.
Over the past month he said: “Bermuda in general and the Government of Bermuda specifically have been the target of a systemic misinformation campaign surrounding the gaming industry in Bermuda. A systemic misinformation campaign that sought to damage Bermuda’s reputation and create an atmosphere of uncertainty and suspicion around this government and by extension our fledgling gaming industry.”
The “main issues” being perpetuated in the public domain, he said, swirl around whether or not MM&I “has some form of contract or agreement with the Government of Bermuda and whether this government intends to implement or mandate a cashless gaming system for casinos in Bermuda”.
The proposed amendment to the Casino Gaming Amendment Act states: “The minister may at any time revoke the appointment of a member who is unable or unwilling to perform his duties as a member, or in such other circumstances as the minister considers appropriate.”
The legislation also broadens the power of politicians over the governing of casinos.
This latest move follows three previous attempts by the Minister to end Mr Dunch’s chairmanship, since the new Progressive Labour Party Cabinet was sworn in.
The commission Chairman’s contract expires in May 2019. To date, Mr Dunch has maintained that he will not resign, and that there is no statutory rules in place to form the basis of his removal.
In a statement released last night, the Minister said the Act brings Bermuda in line with other jurisdictions, like Singapore, on gambling governance.
The amendment allows Government to give policy direction to the Casino Gaming Commission and allows the minister “to remove members of the commission who do not follow legal directions issued by the Government”. And the amendment would not interfere with independent investigations by the commission, or the enforcement of Bermuda’s gaming laws.
But under the new Bill, the commission would be forced to operate under the orders of the Tourism Minister. The amendment empowers the Minister, after consultation with the commission, to “give general directions to the commission as to the policy to be followed in the achievement of the objects of the commission under this section”, and “the commission shall give effect to any general directions given by the minister”.
The Minister fired off a scathing attack on Mr Dunch’s performance to date, and accused the Chairman of having a political agenda.
Earlier, in a Ministerial Statement, he said: “The Progressive Labour Party government has not conceived, considered or given any assurances, public or private, either that system or that operator will have a presence in our casino gaming industry.
“To be clear, the Government is not currently considering making cashless gaming on the island mandatory for casino operators.
“The Government is not currently considering any proposals related to the gaming industry from MM&I and/or Banyan Gaming. The Government has not entered into any arrangements with Banyan Gaming or MM&I. That was the previous government,’.
“The Government has not entered into any arrangements with Banyan Gaming or MM&I – That, Mr Speaker, was the previous government. Those are the facts,” he said.
He also referred to “individuals who have yet to accept the results of the last General Election”, who do not respect “the mandate for change that the people of Bermuda delivered”, who “would rather orchestrate systemic misinformation campaigns” to “jeopardise” Bermuda’s reputation and “undermine” the Government, rather “than engage in a collaborative and mutually respectful relationship for the benefit of Bermuda”.
“An example of this attitude may be seen in an e-mail sent to me by the current Chairman of the Gaming Commission Mr Alan Dunch on October 20, in which he wrote and I quote, ‘If you want a public fight, I am more than up for it’,” said the Minister.
“Those words now seem oddly prophetic as shortly afterward a select series of e-mail exchanges between my Ministry and the Gaming Commission were ‘obtained’ by The Royal Gazette and an attempt to damage this government and Bermuda commenced in earnest.
“That attitude may perhaps be further seen in the recent non-participation in the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee’s National Risk Analysis, failure to provide the requested presentation for the related workshops and failure to provide the analysis and conclusions of the working group that the commission was chairing.
“The Chairman of the Gaming Commission may want, crave, seek or desire a public fight. This government was not elected to engage in petty public fights.
“This government was not elected to get dragged into the drama and theatrics of those who by their words and deeeds have demonstrated a complete and utter disregard for the wellbeing of our island and our people.
“This government was elected to create economic growth, help local and international business to thrive and create a wider range of jobs and opportunities for Bermudians with partners that share this vision and are willing to seek positive action over public fights and job creation over petty squabbling.”
The Minister continued: “While others want public fights, we seek a Bermuda that with greater economic growth and a diversified economy will bring new jobs and new industries to Bermuda.
“Although there are individuals within the Bermuda Gaming Commission seemingly prepared to drag Bermuda and its reputation through the mud to get their own way, this government was elected to make change and we will make the change that the people who elected us sent us here to deliver.
“The Casino Gaming Amendment Bill that I will table today will execute that mandate.”
While noting that Bermuda’s “impeccable standards” of open transparency is one “that is free of governmental corruption”. That reputation,together with “our outstanding infrastructure, our world class regulatory structure and our business friendly environment that have positioned Bermuda as an excellent place to do business and invest”, said the Minister.
“It was the previous OBA government that pledged to hold a referendum on gaming while in Opposition and then once in Government refused to keep their pledge and give our people a voice on this critical issue,” he said.
And it was the former administration”that first introduced the concept of the cashless gaming system into the conversation surrounding gaming”, then “entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with MM&I for them to provide said system once gaming legislation had been passed and casino license issued”.
That same OBA administration, he said, also “found itself entangled in the Jetgate Affair”, and “accepted a $30,000 donation towards a pro-gaming marketing campaign from MM&I in advance of the referendum that they eventually scrapped”.
Said Minister Simmons: “The Progressive Labour Party government ha snot conceived, considered or given any assurances public or private either that system or that operator will have a presence in our casino gaming industry.