Government to enact casino gambling legislation in time for CWC – President

Kaieteur News
December 9, 2006

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Legislation to allow casino gambling should be enacted in Guyana in time for the Cricket World Cup matches next year.

This was revealed by President Bharrat Jagdeo who said he is going ahead with instituting the process.

However, only those hotels which fulfill the requisite criteria will be granted licenses and only visitors to Guyana will be allowed to use the casinos initially.

President Jagdeo made it clear yesterday that the passing of the proposed legislation will in no way open the flood gates for widespread gambling.

He said this position is being taken in recognition of the concerns raised by some sections of society to the proposal for the introduction of gambling casinos locally.

The President told reporters yesterday that in order for a hotel to qualify for casino licenses it must have 250 rooms and be accredited as a four star hotel.

At the moment, a number of hotels are being developed for the international cricket matches next year which may meet the licensing requirements for casinos. Among them is the 250-room Buddy's Hotel at Providence .

The Christian community was among the first to voice their displeasure when the disclosure was made earlier this year that hotel developers might receive licenses pending legislation.

As part of the concerns raised, the church had related that data from the United States indicate that every area where gambling was prevalent record a six percent increase in crime.

The religious sector had also noted that surveys reveal that the monies spent by the average person on gambling is detracted from what would have been spent on household items aimed at enhancing family life.

Concerns about the many nefarious activities that are known to be associated with gambling were also expressed.

The People's National Congress had also added its voice in protest of the proposal for casino gambling legislation.

The PNCR opined that such a major decision should involve extensive consultations with all stakeholders.

The process, the party said, should engage religious organisations, women's and youth groups as well as indigenous communities, the private and public sector as well as civil society.

However, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon had assured of Government's plans of addressing all concerns raised by social partners on the issue.

He posited that every effort will be made to allay the fears of these groups following which national discourse will be conducted.

He had pinpointed the religious community, law enforcement and the Revenue Authority as three key entities where this process will begin.

According to him, this is because these bodies are important pillars in society whose functions and performances will in one way or another come under scrutiny were government to go in the direction of establishing a mature gambling environment in Guyana .

The opposition party had also pointed out the negative activities that casino gambling often attract.

The party had noted that casinos are often used as prime conduits to launder money and as places for narco-criminals to cluster and transact their dug business. That party had also observed that casinos are infamous in the developing world for encouraging and fostering prostitution and a range of abuses directed primarily at the women, children and indigenous and vulnerable communities.

The PNCR however said that it has not taken a policy decision against casinos and opined that in the right environment characterised by a strict adherence to the rule of law, effective law enforcement and an efficient national security apparatus, a casino pilot project could be given consideration.

Addressing the issue, President Jagdeo had however pointed out that a number of casinos exist in the Caribbean and the business was successful because of the model employed. He cited the Bahamas as an example.

He posited that if this venture comes into fruition it will not be because government is trying to make tons of money from gambling but rather to make Guyana a better tourism destination.

He reiterated that this is his obligation as President of Guyana.

The Head of State noted that at the moment, Guyana is encountering a major problem with establishing the necessary infrastructure for tourism which is recognised as a major growth area of the future with the capacity to provide employment to scores of youth throughout Guyana .

He noted that feasibility studies conducted on the basis of visitor arrivals show that no local hotel beyond the value of $US2-3M would be sustainable because of the low numbers of tourists here.

“Now I have in this country to find a balance. I would never promote widespread gambling in our country where everyone could walk off the street and gamble like the US Model. But I think that if the guests are going to go to Barbados or the Bahamas because they have casinos and we could attract them in this country by having casinos at the hotels they are staying, then we should do so.”

“As President I have an obligation to develop the infrastructure for tourism and attract more tourists which will mean more jobs for everyone from taxi drivers to waiters and others in the hospitality industry,” the President noted.

The President said that one proposal for a casino license came from a local businessman who is establishing a 14-storey hotel at a cost of some $US70M.

According to him, the businessman was adamant that the only way that such massive investment could be justified is by him being issued with a casino license.

In reiterating his stance against widespread casino gambling, President Jagdeo reminded that his administration took steps against local businessman Jad Rahaman who tried to instigate this.

He however noted that if anyone wanted to participate in gambling it is now easily accessible on the internet.

“Internet gambling could take place now without restriction since anyone with a credit card can do so,” the President noted.