The Cayman Islands Tourism Association has called for a referendum on the subject of gambling.
“That is our position,” said Jane van der Bol, executive director of the association which represents around 250 private sector tourism businesses in the Cayman Islands.
“We would like to know more about how the people feel; we would like to know more about the effects of gaming, casinos, lotteries here both from a tourism side to make dollars, the government side where money flows into the coffers, but also the socially-responsible side.
“That is, what happens to addicts; how do you manage people who are spending their last penny on gambling instead of buying milk from the family?”
Ms van der Bol explained that the majority of Caribbean islands do allow some form of gambling and that Jamaica, Cayman’s neighbour, was also considering opening up to gambling for the first time in 2013.
“All destinations have different regulations about gambling and who can gamble,” she explained.
“For example, Bahamians cannot gamble. Would that work for the Cayman Islands? Talking just in general and not on behalf of the CITA we do have a lot of very wealthy residents and individuals. Maybe we would not want to prevent them going into a casino and spending some of their money,” she mused, giving a personal viewpoint.
The tourism association did conduct a poll of its membership in order to get ‘a pulse,’ explained Ms van der Bol. This does not, however, represent an official CITA position but rather a snapshot indicator of mood.
“[We found that] 71.7 per cent of the responses said that they would agree to some sort of gambling and 87.4 per cent of responses said yes to a lottery.
“Countries like Aruba, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, St. Croix, St. Martin, Curacao and Bonaire currently have gaming. The World Casino Directory website says that there are at least 15 island destinations with casino gaming. In August 2012 there was news that Bermuda was looking at a casino and Jamaica said it was looking at implementing a casino by 2013.”
It is not a simple issue, she noted, because with gambling often comes a set of other factors, which may have a disastrous impact on a destination.
“These countries would tell you that there is no doubt that having casinos comes with more corruption, more crime and that the money that is won does not always stay on the island. There has to be a regulation so that families do not waste their money on gambling.
“One of the biggest attractions we have in Cayman is our safety so you have to take it into balance that if it affects our safety reputation in any way it has to be reviewed carefully. Are the dollars worth it? Personally, I think they are not. That aspect has been huge and has kept us in the forefront [of tourism]. We can say that we are the safest island in the Caribbean – and we really are.”
Ms van der Bol also noted that if there is already illegal gaming going on in Cayman the question would be whether the government should in fact benefit from it.
“There are different degrees of gaming of course. In 2011, Macao had 16 casinos and brought in $5.3 billion in revenue, 35 per cent of which went to government in taxes. From a tourism point of view, Singapore legalised gambling in 2005 and now plan to double their annual visitor arrivals to 17 million by 2015, through their gambling initiatives. It is tough. It’s like candy, you want it but you are not supposed to have it.”
Gambling has, she noted, created new activities for other countries, created new jobs and added to government coffers, attracted a wider demographic, helped fund projects and increased stayover spend.
“It has also increased construction jobs,” she said.
“We might benefit the same way but the question is – what are you going to give up? Maybe the appeal of the Cayman Islands is that we are the only ones that do not have gaming. It is definitely a double-edged sword and must be looked at carefully. The Cayman Islands Tourism Association believes that we need to reach out to the people and ask them what they think.”