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GUEST COLUMN: Casinos major earner

by Frank da Silva

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Our country Barbados must maximise significant ongoing increases in foreign currency earnings.One important project that was not finished during our last term in office was an in-depth study on casino gambling. It was first brought to our attention in 1993 when a proposed multi-million dollar project to develop the Bushy Park area included a request for a seven-storey hotel with a roof deck casino. In keeping with Government’s thinking at that time, the request for a casino was turned down.  However, the team I was part of, the Foreign Exchange Committee, felt we should do an in-depth study and report the findings to our government. Since it was tourism linked, the concept was first turned over to the Ministry of Tourism which was unable to get this initiative underway.  At a meeting specially called to discuss this issue at Government Headquarters, chaired by our now Prime Minister the Hon David Thompson, who assumed the chairmanship of the FXC from January 1993 to August 1994 (during its most productive period), a high-level team was appointed under the chairmanship of David Bynoe, at the time also the head of Barbados Shipping and Trading.  This team effort had to be aborted when our term of office came to a premature end a day or two before members of that team were to travel to the UK to interface with a casino chain of the highest integrity and also to meet with some government officials.  I must confess that when one hears the word casino one it conjures up images of a time when they were connected with a criminal lifestyle and were owned and controlled by unsavoury characters.In the interest of our country I am calling on the authorities to complete that study for the following reasons:The research done during the 90s revealed that some 67 countries had established casinos as legal entities. Those casinos operated within the framework of the law of their country. The better casinos dealt with four major concerns effectively.  1. The first concern was the question of money laundering. Our investigations led me to the view that this was dealt with effectively by ensuring the instrument used to ensure ones participation in casino games was an international credit card from a reputable bank.  2.Allegations related to prostitution and drug use were also dealt with via a rigid code of practice and was simply not tolerated in high-quality casinos.  In reality this is dealt with the same way as it is at any top of the line tourism entity.  3.The fourth issue caused me some concern that the addiction to gambling affects between 3 and 5 per cent  of people who gamble.  However, it would be in our country’s best interest to complete this study, share it with the people of Barbados and with their majority support, establish a high-quality casino that would be majority owned by the people of Barbados.My recollection of a study done in the early 90s is at that time casino gambling would add US $100M per year to our tourism. I am seeking to have this information verified.Secondly, Barbados is regarded I am told as not having enough evening activities for visitors, in particular for mature visitors.A formula can be developed in which the foreign currency to establish this casino would be the investment of a minority partner (up to 40 per cent) and finally this should not be a partisan issue as two distinguished Barbadians – Sir Richard Cheltenham and Mr. Aaron Truss – can speak with knowledge and authority of the 1994 BLP government’s view on this issue.
• Frank da Silva is a member of the Democratic Labour party and a former high commissioner.