Jamaica getting gambling legislation

KINGSTON,  Jamaica – After weeks of deliberations, the
parliamentary committee reviewing legislation for the proposed Casino Gaming
Act Tuesday approved the bill that will be submitted to Parliament next
Tuesday, 16 February, for debate.

The bill, which has been at least
two years in the making, is also being submitted along with the newly amended
Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission Act.

Committee Chairman Daryl Vaz said
Cabinet had responded to Opposition member Wykeham McNeill’s view, at last
Tuesday’s meeting, that there was a need for two regulatory bodies to oversee
the gaming sector.

Vaz said that, during a recent
meeting, a decision was taken to maintain a single regulator as it related to
casino operations.

At the same time, Vaz pointed out
that Cabinet had not indicated any dissatisfaction with the Betting, Gaming and
Lotteries Commission’s performance or what it was mandated to do.

“There is no indictment on
either the chairman, board of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission, or
the management and staff as it relates
to their mandate,” said Vaz.

“We’re just making sure, out
of an abundance of caution, that we monitor and regulate the introduc-tion of casinos.”

Motives
challenged

However, the issue of exclusivity
concerning the issuing of just three casino licences to potential investors
within exclusive geo-graphical zones, as outlined in the draft bill, raised concerns
from both Government and Opposition committee members.

Opposition members, in expres-sing
reservations over licence restrictions, challenged the Govern-ment’s motives in
supporting and entering such exclusive agreements.

It was disclosed that the Attorney
General’s Department had indicated during earlier consultations that the
exclusive licensing arrangements which the Government negotiated with investors
in 2006 were not legally binding, given the absence of casino gaming legislation.

In that year, the former
administration, through the government company Harmonisa-tion Limited, signed a
joint venture with overseas investors Tavistock Group to develop 2,350 acres of
Trelawny oceanfront property to include gaming lounges and luxury hotels.

Further
investments

A clearly agitated Vaz told the
committee that Cabinet had examined the documents from the arrangement started
by the previous government with a view to continuing negotiations and expanding
it to obtain further investments to benefit the country.

However, Opposition member Phillip
Paulwell said some members believed the restriction to three licences was
anti-competitive and posed a breach of people’s rights, and urged that the
issues be put back on the table for reconsideration.

Vaz said Cabinet had decided on
three licences for investors in other areas, including the exclusive licence, and
two others that will be issued based on the stipulated procurement guidelines.

Asked by Paulwell whether any
commitments had been made to other hotel groups for a second licence, Vaz said
discussions were taking place, but nothing had been finalised based on the
current economic situation.