WEEKLY FEATURE: Bermuda Premier Wants to Save Casino Industry

The government of Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, has called for a redo of gambling laws in order to restart the process for bringing casino gambling to the country. Promoting the building of integrated resorts has been a goal of Premier David Burt (l.), but recently a developer, Century Casinos, withdrew from a longtime project and a casino looks unlikely.

WEEKLY FEATURE: Bermuda Premier Wants to Save Casino Industry

David Burt, the premier of Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, has signaled a legislative shakeup to save the territory’s casino industry, which has undergone a failure to launch.

The promise of reforms to the law came after Century Casinos in January announced that it was withdrawing from plans to build a casino at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club. The casino developer had waited almost a decade for the government to finalize the law, reports local outlet the Royal Gazette.

St. Regis Bermuda Resort had already been given a license to open—but other regulatory red tape kept it from actually doing so. If it had opened, it would have provided 100 jobs.

Delivering his Budget Message to the House of Assembly February 17, Burt, who has been in power for six years, held the previous government responsible for the delays that happened after the Bermuda Gaming Act was approved nine years ago, after which it did little to implement that law, in fact seemed to block it via its inaction.

The idea behind the law was to attach three or four small casinos to hotels in Bermuda. Critics say it would have been better to try to bring in a brand-name casino and hotel and build a major resort.

He declared, “Almost nine years after the previous administration passed the Gaming Act, Bermuda does not have a casino.” He added, “Amendments made since that time have not been enough to address the obstacles that seem designed to prevent this industry from taking hold in this jurisdiction.”

Burt, who is also the territory’s Finance Minister, wants to remove the requirement of an integrated resort for a casino to operate. He told lawmakers, “What is clear is that having the integrated resort model as the only available option for casino operation in Bermuda is a flaw in the inherited regime.”

This would require amending the Bermuda Gaming Commission’s charter. He also wants to put the Ministry of Finance in charge of gaming.

Burt added, “To reinforce the regulatory responsibilities of the commission, these amendments will be accompanied by a revised definition of minister in the Act to establish the Minister of Finance as the minister, similar to the Bermuda Monetary Authority.” He said some parts of the Act seemed “designed to prevent” casinos from happening.

The political party One Bermuda Alliance, which is in opposition to Burt’s party, opposes Burt’s plan. Its leader Cole Simmons said the Ministry of Finance shouldn’t be tied that close to gambling. One reason that the banking industry is leery about investing in local gambling is this fear of corruption, he said. The insider added that the government had destroyed the Bermuda Gaming Commission’s appearance of independence when it passed the Casino Gaming Amendment Act in 2017. The Act gave ministers the ability to hire and fire commissioners at will.

Former Tourism Minister Jamahl Simmons told the Gazette: “It was a Cabinet decision and it made sense at that time” but added, “Whether it still makes sense is a matter for the present Cabinet using the information that they possess and have access to.”

The Gazette spoke to one unidentified gaming “insider” who “told TRG that the government’s intervention has led to U.S. financial institutions refusing to work with casinos in the territory.” Which would mean that no overseas bank would back a casino project.

That insider concluded bleakly: “It is clear now that we will never see a casino in Bermuda.”