Gambling & Lottery Law Gets First Reading

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Very soon the BVI will have its own betting system. This announcement was made by Premier and Finance Minister Hon. Andrew Fahie during the 16 June sitting of the House of Assembly during the debate of the Gaming and Betting Control Act 2020. This legislation is a fulfillment of a promise that was made in the Speech from the Throne and in the 2019 budget. In presenting the objects and reasons of the Bill the Premier explained that the legislation would legalize gambling, betting, and other forms of the game of chance in the Territory. Most importantly, he said, the legislation would get rid of illegal lottery and gambling currently taking place in the Territory.

Before the legislation having its first reading in the House on Tuesday, religious persons announced their discontent about the legalization of gambling in the Territory. A statement was even released from the Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church.

As he noted the dissent the Bill generated, the Premier said that the legislation was necessary not only as a revenue earner for the BVI but to fix an underground gambling sector. “There are persons who are going around saying your government is introducing gambling. Mr. Speaker that is not a true statement, and I’ll tell you why – Gambling is already taking place in the Territory – illegal gambling. There are lottery tickets on sale on our streets in the BVI. How much does the BVI make from the sale of these lottery tickets – zero. We make nothing from the sales of those lottery tickets,” the Premier explained.

“It is money that is pulled out of this economy here and then taken abroad. It is transferred out, most likely by circumventing the banks and remittance services where we might have been able to collect some measure of taxation,” the Premier added.  

Hon. Fahie said that for years various betting and gambling activities have been taking place in corners of the BVI and nothing was done about it. “I am advised that there are other forms of gambling taking place where people bet on other kinds of sports. This is also betting on horse racing which we will be seeking to regularize and regulate to unlock its full potential as a sport that can generate revenue and create jobs,” the Premier announced.

In further response to the complaints Hon. Fahie announced, “Many of the things some people try to create taboos and stigmas around, some of those same persons go abroad to do it also.”

The Premier noted that there has been active public discourse on the legislation and he mentioned that religious leaders have made their views known on the matter: “We appreciate and welcome all the comments and advice and we respect them….Your government has listened to the feedback on all sides – some voices are in favour, some are against; and some have not indicated a preference one way or the other.” Nonetheless, the Premier said that the decision will be weighed.

The BVI Leader further explained that with the right kind of laws gaming can be done in a controlled way and the Territory end up the winner. Hon. Fahie also explained that once the BVI Lottery is introduced illegal foreign lotteries that are currently sold on certain streets in the Territory will stop. He also mentioned that the government is already arranging the establishment of the lottery system: “We have been working with a team of consultants who have helped other jurisdictions including others in the Caribbean to implement their own online gaming systems and facilitate these kinds of lottery games like the PowerBall.”

During the debate, the first voice against the legislation was Second District Representative and Opposition Member Hon. Melvin Mitch Turnbull. The Opposition member warned that the legislation can open the door to social issues in the Territory.  In noting that families can become affected Hon. Turnbull stated, “While I know that everyone will not partake in the gambling… desperation causes people to do desperate things,” the Second District Representative said.

In further decrying the plan to legalizing gaming and betting Hon. Turnbull declared, “We are opening up Mr. Speaker the flood gate so to speak that you have these avenues to gamble and game and we would say that the lottery has been here and gambling does happen on the horse track gambling does happen in bars.” The legislator, therefore, asked the Premier to consider the social impact of such a bill as it relates to addictive gambling.

Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn told his colleagues that he also has concerns about the legislation and the fact that the Bill was before the House to be passed swiftly. “We have had no conversation with the experts concerning this legislation. He also expressed concern about the legalisation of gambling. The Opposition Leader said he wants to hear from the financial services industry to hear of the repercussion of the bill.

Additionally Hon. Penn said that he did not see any impact assessment report to speak to the implementation of such a practice in the Territory. “When we make decisions like this that have far-reaching implications. The considerations need to be more than financial.”

Both Hon. Penn and Turnbull mentioned Las Vegas which is known worldwide for its casinos and he stated that there is another side of poverty in that city association from this activity. He also noted that there is already a de-risking situation with banks and noted that banks even in the USVI do not bank proceeds from such activities.

The Bill was seconded by Deputy Premier and Minister for Health and Social Development Hon. Carvin Malone who announced that the social concerns raised by the members of the Opposition are valid: “Addiction is a concern as it should be…but people are addicted to many things so we have to find a way.”

 “I am here in support of converting from illegal gambling to legal gambling – regularising it…I support it. I support moving from an illegal state…to a legalised coordinated stage.”

“We cannot trivialize the effects that it would have also so we have to join forces in making sure that the law…just like the other laws that deal with enforcement we have to come together and make sure that all arms are on board with this and we do that which is proper,” Hon. Malone added. The Gaming and Betting Control Act is expected to have its second and third readings.

Meanwhile Minister with responsibility for Sports Dr. the Hon. Natalio Wheatley said that he does not understand the religious argument and points being raised about the Bill. “The Bible said nothing about gambling what the Bible refers to is greed, covetousness none of these things apply solely to gambling.“

Dr. Wheatley also pointed out that having an unregulated gambling industry is in his opinion more detrimental to the financial services sector. “I believe the best thing to do Mr. Speaker is to regulate it. That unregulated betting is dangerous.”

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