HAMILTON, Bermuda, CMC – The withdrawal of a US firm has dealt a fresh blow to Bermuda’s hopes of opening its first casinos — more than eight years since parliament gave them the green light.
The Royal Gazette newspaper quoted a leading business source as saying heavy regulation, perception of a lack of independence for gaming authorities, and failure by the Progressive Labour Party government to open up the banking sector enough have put the future of Bermuda hosting casinos in doubt.
The comments come in the wake of a US firm, Century Casinos, dramatically pulling out of a planned gambling hub at the island’s oldest hotel, the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club.
The source told the Gazette that the government’s relationship with the Bermuda Gaming Commission (BGC) was putting off US investors and banks becoming involved in setting up casinos on the island.
Century Casinos cited the “current legislative framework” as a reason it had suddenly abandoned the Princess casino project after eight years of involvement.
The source said banks on the island were unwilling to handle gaming proceeds as they could not secure a foreign correspondent bank, and the regulatory regime raised doubts about whether profits could be made.
The Princess said it had ceased searching for a new operator until the BGC can provide a “viable path forward.”
In 2017, backers of the Princess casino predicted it could create up to 100 jobs.
The project’s collapse is a blow for the government, which made casinos one of its four key areas of economic stimulus quo as the island grapples with a national debt of US$3.35 billion.
Despite being given a license, there still needs to be a date for opening a casino at St Regis, the island’s newest hotel at the east end, which opened in 2021.
“There is a problem with the regulatory environment, as Century Casinos alluded to. The US banks want gaming to be independent, and the BGC looks anything but. A major disincentive is that Bermuda gaming regulation does not look independent,” the source said.
“Regulations on how you would run a casino here all appear geared to those operating in a much larger jurisdiction, like California or Nevada, and for much bigger casinos than the teeny-tiny ones given licenses here.”
However, a government spokeswoman insisted that the BGC was independent, adding: “Any suggestion of influence over the commission is patently false.”
With the collapse of the project drawing international attention, Craig Cannonier, the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) tourism spokesman, has called on Premier and Tourism Minister David Burt, who had earlier confidently predicted the first casino would open by the end of 2021, to hold urgent talks with licensees, banks and regulators to deal with the situation.
Casinos were approved in late 2014, two years after the OBA defeated the PLP in a general election. The building of St Regis also started during the OBA’s term in office.
Following the decision by Century Casinos to walk away from the project, Cannonier said the island has a “big problem” establishing a job-generating gaming industry unless the PLP government acts to assure investors.
“The government is saying it is up to the license holders to get things done, but how can they if banks are unwilling to take proceeds from gaming? It is up to the government to satisfy that mandate by the bank — you can’t blame the licensee.
“I know that, at present, gaming proceeds cannot be accepted by banks,” said Cannonier.
Gambling enthusiasts can still not place wagers at betting shops on the island, which remain shut down.
Licenses for four operators – Triple Crown Racing, Seahorses, Paradise Games, and Game Time – expired at the end of March when they were forced to close.
The operators have yet to submit an application to the BGC for a new license.