The Keith Mitchell-led administration in St. George’s has taken the first decisive step to fulfill a commitment given within months of taking office following the February 2013 general elections to introduce casino gambling legislation in Grenada.
The 18-month old government has now played its hands openly to the Grenadian people for the first time by passing legislations in the Lower House of Parliament to provide for casino gaming.
The CASINO GAMING BILL, 2014 was introduced during a sitting of the House of Representative last week Thursday, to provide for the Licensing and Control of Premises Used For Gaming and for Levying Taxes on Gaming.
PM Mitchell had previously indicated that the issue of Casino gambling will be determined by the people of the country.
When he served as Opposition Leader between 2008 and 2013, the Political Leader of the ruling New National Party (NNP) ignored a call made by then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas of Congress to state his position on casino gambling.
During the latter part of Mitchell’s earlier 13-years in office that ended in 2008, the issue of casino gaming came to the fore when the CEO of Switzerland-based construction company – Zublin, Hendrik Van Dijk announced that it had approached the administration for a casino licence as part of the proposed St George’s Revitalization Project for the Bruce Street Mall in St George’s.
Dr. Mitchell told Parliament that since 1984 the first NNP Government of late Prime Minister, H.A Blaize was asked to look at casino gambling and throughout his time as leader of the country, he always wanted to make sure that all the assessments and analysis were done before proceeding with it and also took issue with detractors to casino gambling.
“If you are against casino gambling as you now attempting to come forward with, you ought to be against Bingo. Because if you are against people gambling then I don’t see how, if it’s a moral position then it has to be morally wrong for Bingo, or card games or any form that results in people winning other people’s resources. So I can’t accept that position on moral grounds if that is the position”, said PM Mitchell.
The Prime Minister contended that the legislation now before Parliament is more protective of the country’s social fabric than Bingo as it prohibits people 18 years and younger as well as locals from participating in Casino gambling.”
“In the case of Bingo, everybody is there, gambling … Bingo is far worse in my view”, he remarked.
Dr. Mitchell took issue with ex-PM Thomas whose administration was approached and allegedly gave the green light to a cruise liner to open their casino facilities while docked in Port St. George.
However, sources close to Congress said that the permission was never implemented.
PM Mitchell hinted that the position adopted then by the Thomas government was not in any way different “from the present Bill that we have” taken to Parliament.
The Grenadian leader stressed that he was looking forward to the economic spin-offs for the country from the activities to be undertaken from the new Casino Gaming that will position Grenada to become the envy of the Caribbean.
The Casino Bill was presented to Parliament by Minister for Economic Development, Trade, Planning and Cooperatives, Oliver Joseph, who said that the legislation is in line with established gaming legislative regimes in the Caribbean such as the Bahamas, Belize, Guyana and St. Kitts and Nevis.
According to Minister Joseph, the establishment of Casinos on the island would provide additional attractions for visitors to Grenada.
He said that despite emotional outbursts from some persons that Casino Gambling will lead to an increase in crimes in a relatively peaceful Grenada, there is no evidence of a link between Casinos and crimes.
“People for religious and other purposes would want us to believe that’s a bad thing – casino for itself is not a bad thing”, he added.
The senior government minister noted that during a meeting held with the Conference of Churches of Grenada (CCG), he explained the positive effects of Casino Gaming but the church leaders believe that their membership should not engage in such activities as Christians.
THE NEW TODAY understands that during Sunday’s church services around the island, some religious leaders cautioned their flock to be careful with casino gambling on the island.
Under the legislation introduced in Parliament, an application for a licence to operate a casino must be accompanied by a non-refundable payment of $100,000.00 and must be advertisement in two weekly newspapers circulating in Grenada, and in the Government Gazette.
The published notice must specify the name of the applicant, the location of the premises where the casino will be established, and objection to the application must be filed by opponents within 14 days of publication.
The legislations also stipulates that a Casino licence will only be granted to a hotel of at least 300 rooms that is accredited by the Grenada Tourism Authority or a resort that is approved or designated by the Minister of government tasked with the responsibility.
Other provisions in the bill were:
*A licence may be granted for such term, not exceeding ten years, as may be specified therein, but may be extended from time to time by the Minister, for periods not exceeding five years in respect of each such extension, upon application made by the licensee to the Commission:
*No person – who is under eighteen years of age; or who is a citizen of Grenada and ordinarily resident in Grenada; shall take part in the activities of any casino, and any such person who takes part in gaming as aforesaid commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand dollars:
*No employee of a licensee, regardless of his or her citizenship; shall be permitted to participate in gaming conducted by their employer.
*Any person who – enters the premises of any casino after he or she has been declared a prohibited person; or being a licensee or a manager of a casino, knowingly permits a person so declared to be a prohibited person to enter or remain on the premises of that casino, commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of fifty thousand dollars and
*Any person who takes part in gaming contrary to the provisions of this section commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $50,000.00.
*In each year there shall be charged on and paid by the licensee of a casino, which is open for business at any time during that year, an annual tax based on the floor space of that casino as follows – where the casino has floor space of 6,000 square feet or less, the tax shall be $50,000.00 per annum;
*Where the casino has floor space of more than 6,000 but not more than 10,000 square feet the tax shall be $75,000.00 per annum;
*Where the casino has floor space of more than 10,000 but not more than 15,000 square feet the tax shall be $100,000.00 per annum;
*Where the casino has floor space of more than 15,000 but not more than 20,000 square feet the tax shall be $150,000 per annum;
*Where the casino has floor space of more than 20,000 square feet the tax shall be $200,000 per annum.