Under-fire commission chairman hits out at new legislation

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HAMILTON, Bermuda, Nov 16, CMC  – The sacking of lawyer Alan Dunch as chairman of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, an independent body, is on the cards after government introduced fresh legislation giving Tourism Minister Jamahl Simmons the power to remove him.
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.
Dunch said it would allow Simmons to hand out lucrative gaming contracts which should be the remit of the gaming commission.
Simmons, who has tried to oust Dunch three times since the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) defeated the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) in July’s general election, tabled amendments in the House of Assembly last Friday giving himself the ability to fire Dunch.
That came after Dunch repeatedly questioned the intentions of MM&I Holdings, a local firm bidding for a cashless gaming contract worth tens of millions of dollars per year.
Simmons has repeatedly refused to say whether the government is in talks with MM&I, but on Friday he said  currently proposals a from MM&I and/or its American partner firm, Banyan Gaming, are not being considered.
Bermuda is still waiting for its first casinos to open, even though parliament gave them the green light in 2014.
In a statement earlier this week, Dunch, whose contract expires in May 2019, said: “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.
Simmons has accused the commission 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 government and refusing to acknowledge and accept change.
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.
“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.
Meanwhile, plans to give politicians power over Bermuda’s casino industry have come under fire from a leading international publication on gaming.
An opinion piece by the publisher of Global Gaming Business (GGB)  warned that giving MPs control over the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission would open the door to corruption and potentially undermine the integrity of the Bermuda government.
The article, published on Monday, was written by Roger Gros, publisher of  GGB which describes itself as the industry’s leading gaming trade publication.
The then-OBA government originally pledged to hold a referendum on gaming within a year of coming into office after winning the December 2012 general election.
But then-Premier Craig Cannonier did an about-turn and announced government had controversially changed its mind on the referendum promise, claiming that the PLP had threatened to undermine the process — a claim the PLP later denied.
The OBA said it would save US$500,000 by cancelling the referendum and leaving it to politicians to decide whether to give casinos the green light, which they did three years ago.

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