As Bermuda prepares to gamble on casinos, Cayman wary of following suit
As Bermuda’s government prepares to introduce gaming legislation as a potential “game changer” for the island’s struggling economy, tourism chiefs in Cayman believe lawmakers here should take a more cautious approach.
A planned referendum in Bermuda was scrapped and the government announced plans to bring to a vote legislation to legalize gambling in the country’s legislative assembly early in 2014.
Craig Cannonier, the premier of Bermuda, announced the decision at a press conference this month, saying the move was designed to create jobs and “end the misery” of thousands of Bermudians caused by the island’s shrinking economy. Tourism officials in Bermuda feel casino gambling is key to attracting a new hotel development to the island.
For Cayman, though, the economic situation is not quite so dire. And though casino gambling has its advocates, many, including the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, believe there are far more pressing issues to consider in the new year.
“We do not think Cayman should rush into following Bermuda on this,” said Tim Adam, the secretary of CITA.
He said CITA members, based on survey responses, believe the issue of gambling should be decided only after a public education campaign and a referendum.
“We would need to consider what type of visitors gambling might attract, and there should also be studies done on whether Cayman’s existing visitors would be in favor of or against the introduction of gambling,” he added.
Bermuda has faced a similar quandary over gambling for several years, with the balance between social and religious concerns pitched against potential economic benefit in an ongoing debate.
The seriousness of the island’s economic predicament appears to have convinced lawmakers there to take a gamble.
In October, politicians gave the green light to cruise ships to keep their casinos open in port. Cayman’s tourism minister Moses Kirkconnell has previously suggested that the island would need to consider something similar to convince cruise ships to make regular overnight stays in Grand Cayman.
Mr. Adam suggested Bermuda’s decision to roll the dice on gambling would not have repercussions for Cayman and could even backfire for the rival territory.
“As a tourist destination, Cayman has for several years successfully competed against many other Caribbean destinations that already offer gambling, so if Bermuda introduces gambling it is doubtful that would have a significant negative impact on tourist arrivals here,” he said.
“Of course it could even turn out that we get some tourists coming to Cayman to avoid Bermuda because of them introducing gambling.”
He said research should focus on tourists who would be turned off by gambling, as well as those who would be attracted. And he suggested the impacts of casinos in other jurisdictions had not all been positive.
A report in Bermuda, prior to the recent decision to bring gambling to the Legislative Assembly, highlighted some potential downsides, including the negative effects a casino has on other businesses nearby, the issue of whether locals are allowed to gamble, and social costs.
“The pros and cons of gambling and its anticipated socioeconomic impacts would have to be carefully analyzed and shared with the public before CITA could be in a position to make any such recommendation to the government in favor of or against introducing gambling,” Mr. Adam said.