Alan Dunch has branded new legislation giving politicians power over casinos as a “potentially sad and seriously backward” move against efforts to keep corruption out of gaming.
The chairman of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission warned that it would allow Jamahl Simmons, the tourism minister, to hand out lucrative gaming contracts which should be the remit of the gaming commission.
Mr Simmons, who has tried to oust Mr Dunch three times since the Progressive Labour Party was elected, tabled amendments on Friday giving himself the ability to fire Mr Dunch.
That came after Mr Dunch repeatedly questioned the intentions of MM&I Holdings, the local firm bidding for a cashless gaming contract worth tens of millions of dollars per year.
Mr Simmons has repeatedly refused to say whether the Government is in talks with MM&I, but he said on Friday it was not “currently considering any proposals” from MM&I and/or its American partner firm Banyan Gaming.
Mr Dunch, whose contract expires in May 2019, said in a statement: “The tabling of the Casino Gaming Amendment Act last Friday was a potentially sad and seriously backward misstep in the ongoing efforts of Bermuda to introduce a moral and apolitical gaming regime, free from the potential of corruption.
“At face value, it would appear to be a kneejerk reaction arising out of the minister’s great frustration with the refusal of the chairman of the commission to resign, in the absence of reason.
“However, it is far more alarming that his proposed amendments would compel the commission to give up its independence and follow any general directions given to it by the minister. This in and of itself should be of great concern to the Bermuda public.
“It will mean the minister has the power to interfere in all of the commission’s dealings and ongoing work.
“It means the minister is asking Parliament to give him an absolute, unchallengeable right to tell the commission what to do and the commission, despite its own convictions and expertise, will be unable to refuse.”
Mr Dunch said this would make Bermuda’s gaming industry an arm of the Government.
“Who we issue gaming licences to and who we approve as operators, may no longer be based on our internal, and internationally recognised, suitability standards, but those of the minister’s.
“This will not resonate well within the international gaming community and may seriously impede Bermuda’s ability to attract first-class people of the utmost integrity to operate and regulate the casino industry going forward.”
He said the gaming commission strives to operate and function in an autonomous environment.
Mr Dunch said: “The commissioners and the commission’s staff have no other goal or agenda other than this.
“It is not political and it is not personal. We are motivated only to do what is in the best interests of Bermuda — and aim to do so without fear of intimidation, victimisation or political interference.”
Mr Simmons accused the commission on Friday of pursuing a “systemic misinformation campaign” to damage Bermuda’s reputation as well as the gaming industry, refusing to “engage in a collaborative and mutually respectful relationship” with the Government and refusing to acknowledge and accept change.
Mr Dunch responded: “Nothing could be farther from the truth.
“There have been very few interactions, either by e-mail or in person, between the minister and the commission since July 2017.
“The commission has made every effort to engage with the minister and work with him to move the gaming initiative forward. However, it is the minister himself who has engaged in a course of non-communication and complete silence on multiple occasions.
“The minister has systematically refused to meet with the commission, engage with the commission in writing or by telephone, assist the commission with the enactment of a regulatory package that was presented for tabling in Parliament last May or generally in any way assist the commission in its ongoing efforts to get Bermuda’s first casino up and running in circumstances where a provisional casino licence has in fact been issued.
“It is regrettable that the minister seeks to attack the chairman, if not directly then certainly by inference, in his personal capacity.
“His attempts to impugn the chairman’s character and integrity by suggesting that unfounded and ulterior motives lie behind his conduct as chairman are misconceived and without substance.
“Indeed, given his refusal to engage in any way with the commission, it is difficult to understand upon what basis he would make such accusations.”
Mr Simmons also suggested Mr Dunch had e-mailed him to say he was ready for a “public fight” over the issue.
Mr Dunch described this as an “out-of-context reference”, saying that he had been responding to Mr Simmons’s own defamatory accusations against him.
He said: “It was made clear to the minister that the chairman does not take kindly to having his character, integrity and reputation called into question and that if he continued to do so in public, then such defensive steps as were necessary would be taken.”
He added: “In terms of the best interests of Bermuda, it would be ill-advised and most unfortunate if the proposed amendments were to be passed by Parliament, approved by the Senate and assented to by the Governor. The commission does not support them and can only hope that the Government will rethink its position.”
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