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Members of the House of Representatives expressed varying views on the introduction of casino gaming in Jamaica, as debate on the Casino Gaming Act 2009, and the Betting Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2009, continued in the House, yesterday (February 24).
Member of Parliament for East St. Andrew, Dr. St. Aubyn Bartlett, who supports casino gaming, noted that the gaming industry is a $50 billion one, with slot machines being the most popular, followed by the lottery, and horseracing. “I am very proud that the bold move has been taken by this Government to legalise casino gaming and allow horseracing on Sundays. We have finally aligned ourselves with trends in the modern world of gaming,” he told the House.
Mr. Bartlett turned his focus to horseracing, stressing that the industry needed a stimulus to ensure its survival and growth, suggesting that there should be at least three to four days of horseracing, instead of the 1.5 days that are now allowed.
“Horseracing has never depended on the Consolidated Fund for its survival. In fact, horseracing is a net contributor to the Consolidated Fund. In 2009, $267 million of gross profit tax revenue was realised from the sale of bets at Caymanas Park. Of that amount, $129 million went directly to the Consolidated Fund. The stimulus racing needs therefore is not a contribution from the Consolidated Fund, but more racing at Caymanas Park,” he told the House.
Mr. Bartlett, who works as a Veterinarian with Caymanas Park, said that owners pay some $761 million per annum to care for their horses, but returns are not being realised as with the current limited racing days, each horse races less than once every six weeks. “That is just not enough.it just cannot pay the bills. More races will provide more opportunities or jockeys, for grooms, for trainers and for the livelihood of the various players in the industry,” he asserted.
He informed that some 40,000 persons are employed directly and indirectly by the industry, with betting sales in 2009 amounting to $8 billion, and returns to betters at $5.4 billion. He further pointed out that owners shared half a billion dollars in purse money in 2009, and horse sales totaled half a billion dollars for 2008/2009, with owners paying $1,500 per day to care for horses.
In his contribution to the debate, Member of Parliament for East Kingston and Port Royal, Mr. Phillip Paulwell, said the gaming industry should be expanded to include the use of the various technologies, as this would enable competition and provide more revenue for the country.
Speaking specifically to the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Act, Mr. Paulwell explained that, “we now have in the Bill, Caymanas Track Limited’s special position in the marketplace, so that nobody will be able to compete with them in relation to simulcast activities, (and) pool betting involving horseracing. Rather than shrinking economic opportunities, competition would lead to the dramatic opening of this market to bring on board people who may not go to trackside on a Saturday, people who might want to go to a lounge, to view and participate in simulcast betting.”
Mr. Paulwell also took issue with the provision in the casino gaming Act, which restricts the number of licences for casinos, stating that this will not enable the sector to grow and would stifle innovation.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Michael Stern, said gaming would provide other spin-off benefits for the economy, as visitors would spend, not just in the casinos, but on other sectors as well.
He suggested, however, that training, particularly in the hospitality industry, would have to be expanded and upgraded to meet the new level of service to tourists, “so we can attract the high end technical staff, and not allow importation of management at the high end in the industry.”
Member of Parliament for Central Kingston, Rev. Ronald Thwaites, cautioned against gaming and betting, opining that it is an activity that is addictive and unproductive.
“Gambling constitutes a very serious addiction. There is no country that has an extensive system of gambling where the problem of addiction has not become a very serious social malady,” he said, adding that, “casino at its highest form, gives a reaction of our attitude to productivity, which is declining, rather than increasing by virtue of hard work and the production of valid goods and services.”
Member of Parliament, Dr. Wykeham McNeil, said that while casino gaming could be a catalyst for development, boost tax revenues and enhance the country’s tourism offerings, it can have serious negative effects, such as addiction and impacting the traditional values and attitudes of the society.
“To this end, it is not enough for us to just pass legislation allowing casino gambling. We must also put into this legislation provisions that ensure that the negative effects of casinos and gambling in general on our society, are studied and researched,” he suggested.
Dr. McNeil also posited that provisions should be made to compel the regulatory body (the Commission) to put intervention measures in place, such as public education programmes, counselling, and treatment for the negative side effects.
He also advised against the formation of a Casino Commission, separate from the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission, noting that this move is unnecessary, and that instead, there should be an amalgamation.
“There is no doubt that we are going to need a sound, technically strong Commission with very highly skilled persons of integrity to regulate and monitor the casino industry.but one Commission should be formed, that would incorporate all the technical skills, and would have various departments that would oversee the various areas of the industry,” he said.
Debate on the issue will continue in the House.