Politics

Simmons sharpens knife for Dunch

  • Tourism minister Jamahl Simmons (File photograph)
  • Gaming commission chairman Alan Dunch (File photograph)

Tourism minister Jamahl Simmons tabled legislation yesterday to give himself the power to sack Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission chairman Alan Dunch.

The move came after Mr Dunch questioned the intentions of MM&I Holdings, the firm involved in a controversial bid for a gaming contract worth tens of millions of dollars per year.

Mr Simmons’s amendment to the Casino Gaming Amendment Act read: “The minister may at any time revoke the appointment of a member who is unable or unwilling to perform his duties as a member, or in such other circumstances as the minister considers appropriate.”

The legislation also gives politicians greater power over the governing of casinos.

Mr Simmons, who has repeatedly refused to say whether the Progressive Labour Party government is in talks with MM&I, has made three attempts to oust Mr Dunch since taking over as tourism minister.

Mr Dunch, whose contract expires in May 2019, has insisted he will not resign and has said there is no statutory basis upon which he can be removed.

In a statement released last night,

the minister said the Act would bring Bermuda into line with jurisdictions such as Singapore on gambling governance.

Mr Simmons added: “The amendment will allow the Government to give policy direction to the Casino Gaming Commission and will allow the minister to remove members of the commission who do not follow legal directions issued by the Government.”

Mr Simmons said the amendment would not interfere with the independence of the commission in its investigations, or the enforcement of Bermuda’s casino gaming laws.

The legislation, if approved by MPs, would give politicians greater power over the governing of casinos.

The gaming commission, which was set up two years ago as an independent body to oversee gaming regulations, would be forced to operate under the orders of the tourism minister.

The Bill said: “The minister may, after consultation with the commission, give general directions to the commission as to the policy to be followed in the achievement of the objects of the commission under this section. The commission shall give effect to any general directions given by the minister.”

Mr Simmons yesterday used the House of Assembly to launch an attack on Mr Dunch’s performance as chairman and accused of him of having a political agenda.

In a special report last month, The Royal Gazette reported how MM&I tried to net a lucrative contract to provide a cashless gaming network management system for any casinos that open on the island.

The gaming commission warned the deal could damage Bermuda’s financial reputation, and highlighted that individuals from its partner firm, Banyan Gaming, had surrendered their gaming licences in major gambling jurisdictions in the United States.

MM&I reached an agreement with the One Bermuda Alliance government while Mark Pettingill, who represents MM&I, and Mr Pettingill’s business partner, the late Shawn Crockwell, were both in the OBA Cabinet.

The memorandum of understanding was terminated by the OBA in July 2016 under advice from the gaming commission.

PLP MP Zane DeSilva this year helped organise a public gaming forum in which Banyan representatives were introduced as experts.

Mr Simmons has refused to explain why he tried to fire Mr Dunch immediately after the chairman ridiculed MM&I’s claim that it planned to give away the vast majority of its casino profits to good causes.

Mr Dunch has previously expressed surprise that Mr Simmons requested his resignation “out of the blue” a few weeks after declaring his “unequivocal confidence, support and enthusiasm” for the chairman and his team.

In a Ministerial statement, Mr Simmons told MPs: “The Progressive Labour Party government has not conceived, considered or given any assurances, public or private, either that system or that operator will have a presence in our casino gaming industry.

“To be clear, the Government is not currently considering making cashless gaming on the island mandatory for casino operators.

“The Government is not currently considering any proposals related to the gaming industry from MM&I and/or Banyan Gaming. The Government has not entered into any arrangements with Banyan Gaming or MM&I. That was the previous government.”

Mr Simmons said in an apparent reference to Mr Dunch: “It is apparent that there are individuals who have not accepted the results of the recent General Election, do not respect the mandate for change that the people of Bermuda delivered and would rather orchestrate systemic misinformation campaigns, jeopardise the reputation of Bermuda and undermine the Government than engage in a collaborative and mutually respectful relationship for the benefit of Bermuda.

“An example of this attitude may be seen in an e-mail sent to me by the current chairman of the Gaming Commission Mr Alan Dunch on October 20, in which he wrote and I quote, ‘If you want a public fight, I am more than up for it’.

“Those words now seem oddly prophetic as shortly afterward a select series of e-mail exchanges between my ministry and the gaming commission were ‘obtained’ by The Royal Gazette and an attempt to damage this government and Bermuda commenced in earnest.

“That attitude may perhaps be further seen in the recent non-participation in the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee’s National Risk Analysis, failure to provide the requested presentation for the related workshops and failure to provide the analysis and conclusions of the working group that the commission was chairing.

“The chairman of the Gaming Commission may want, crave, seek or desire a public fight. This government was

not elected to engage in petty public fights.

“This government was not elected to get dragged into the drama and theatrics of those who by their words and deeds have demonstrated a complete and utter disregard for the wellbeing of our island and our people.

“This government was elected to create economic growth, help local and international business to thrive and create a wider range of jobs and opportunities for Bermudians with partners that share this vision and are willing to seek positive action over public fights and job creation over petty squabbling.

“While others want public fights, we seek a Bermuda that with greater economic growth and a diversified economy will bring new jobs and new industries to Bermuda.

“Although there are individuals within the Bermuda Gaming Commission seemingly prepared to drag Bermuda and its reputation through the mud to get their own way, this government was elected to make change, we have a mandate to make change and we will make the change that the people who elected us sent us here to deliver.

“The Casino Gaming Amendment Bill that I will table today will execute that mandate.”

The Royal Gazette approached Mr Simmons yesterday to ask whether the PLP government has been in talks with MM&I or Banyan or any other company about a casino gaming system for Bermuda, and why the PLP promoted representatives connected to MM&I/Banyan as experts in gaming at its public forum earlier this year.

Mr Simmons responded that he does not talk to The Royal Gazette.

When contacted, Mr Dunch said that he was still considering his comment.

To read Jamahl Simmons’s comments in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

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