Independent gaming sector unhappy about new 'draconian' rules

Business reporter

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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Gaming operators and the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) were on opposite sides of the fence on Thursday as the Commission sought to pull even the person assembling a gaming machine for personal use under its net.

BGLC held its third town hall meeting in Kingston on Thursday after meeting with gaming operators in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay to discuss new developments and matters of concern related to the gaming industry. But halfway through the presentations by the Commission, a few attendants began to describe some of the enforcements by the BGLC as “draconian” and “in favour of” gaming giant Supreme Ventures Limited.

Effective April 1, BGLC says it will be enforcing compliance and regulatory requirements for the manufacturers of gaming machines. The Commission has also placed under its watch the operators of premises on which gambling occurs as a measure to clamp down on illegal activities.

“That should send off a strong message that it is not just the gaming machine owners or operators who will be charged but all the persons involved,” BGLC's Director of Enforcement Noel Bacquie told the audience.

Obligations of a licensee of prescribed premises include the displaying of licence where it is clearly visible to patrons; signs stating that persons under 18 years are not permitted to game as well as to be in good standing with payment of the premises levy and fees. Bacquie noted that the obligations are in keeping with strategies by the BGLC to ensure that money laundering among other criminal activities is kept out of the industry.

“What will happen if we find that you are operating illegally is an investigator will come to the premises, introduce himself and inform you about why he's there. The premise operators are going to receive a summon to appear in court and if there are illegal machines, there will be immediate forfeiture,” Bacquie warned.

“How we operated in the past was to go out and seize the machines and we would bring them back in our storage area and wait and wait and wait. That's precisely why we have machines in our possession for years. After we issue the forfeiture, the owners of these machines have 30 days to come to us. If they don't appear, we immediately go to court and start the proceedings to have them destroyed,” he continued.

Bacquie reasoned that while he understands that many small gaming operators enter the business as a means of income for their family, it is still not acceptable for gaming shops to operate illegally.

Still, the message did not augur well with Errol Dawkins, who echoed sentiments of another concerned citizen who thought BGLC was not doing enough to bring into the formal system those operating outside of the law.

“Somebody who has a little bar, you're going to march in and take it away; yet Supreme Ventures lottery draw is being played seven days a weeks, six times for the day,” he said.

BGLC has mandated that assemblers of locally manufactured gaming machines pay a fee of $4,000 to the Commission in addition to taxation of $5,000 each year. It's an issue that also raised concerns from members of the audience who questioned why a person not using the machines for income should be charged the same as those making gains.

Additionally, BGLC now requires all gaming shops to adhere to the responsible gaming code of conduct, a condition previously set for only the large operators. BGLC has called for all gaming operators to become compliant with industry standards before March 31.

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