The bill that could finally usher in the establishment of casino resorts on Jamaica was set to go to Parliament for debate in mid-February.
The Jamaica Gleaner reports that the bill will be submitted together with the amended Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission Act.
The Casino Gaming Act calls for the creation of a second gaming commission separate from the existing BGLC. The chairman of the parliamentary committee which oversees the bill, Daryl Vaz, said the new commission did not imply any problems with the BGLC.
“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 introduction of casinos.”
One week earlier, the cabinet responded to concerns expressed by opposition member Dr. Wykeham McNeill that there was a need for two government boards to oversee the casino industry. Vaz said the decision to go with a single regulatory board had been taken at a recent meeting.
One element of the new bill sure to cause debate is the matter of exclusivity. The bill calls for only three licenses to be made available- licenses which will come with exclusivity for each of the three zones involved. Both government and opposition committee members expressed concerns over the issue, and the attorney general’s office had previously said that existing exclusivity arrangements between the government and developers were not legally binding, given that when they were agreed in 2006, no casino legislation existed within Jamaica.
Included in the potential controversy is the deal with Tavistock Group to develop an oceanfront property at Trelawny.
Opposition member Phillip Paulwell expressed the view that some considered the granting of only three licenses to be against the spirit of competition. He wants the issue to be debated and reconsidered.
When asked if the other two licenses had been promised as well, Vaz said there had been discussions but that nothing had been finalized.
Paulwell is also concerned that the island nation might not have the labor pool needed to staff casinos, reports the Jamaica Observer. The draft regulations require people working in the casino to be licensed if they are in management positions, authorized to make decisions, have responsibility for the movement of chips or exchange of money, or fill any other function at the gaming tables.
Paulwell said it might “perhaps prove difficult for many Jamaicans to meet due diligence requirements” as currently written into the act.