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PM: Gaming houses should not have reopened

The Nassau Guardian May 11, 2020

Jasper Ward

Gaming houses are still not permitted to open during the state of emergency, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday.

This comes as scores of businesses offering curbside and delivery services have reopened in the past week.

In a national address, Minnis said the latest emergency order “codifies and sets out the terms and conditions based on which certain additional establishments or businesses have been permitted to reopen nationally for home delivery and curbside pickup”.

“It is important for business owners to carefully read these provisions and to strictly comply with the physical distancing and sanitization requirements that are necessary, and the requirement for the remote or electronic placement of all purchase orders both for curbside and home delivery services,” he said.

“These provisions are designed to relate strictly to retail business establishments which can operate efficiently without the need for direct person-to-person physical contact or face-to-face interactions.

“They were never intended to apply to the operations of gaming houses and this is now made abundantly clear by the provisions of part B of the order. Those provisions specifically state that permission to engage in-home delivery and curbside pickup services do not apply to a gaming house operators.”

Hundreds of Bahamians swarmed gaming houses across New Providence when they reopened last week.

At the time, Chief Executive Officer of the Bahamas Gaming House Operators Association (BGOA) Gershan Major said it was a positive first step that gaming houses were able to operate again.

“The BGOA members view the government’s measured plan for reopening the economy as a positive first step in allowing businesses to operate albeit within a limited scope to continue to ensure public safety is protected,” he said on May 5.

“Gaming operations are limited to drive-through and curbside service for patrons to top up their accounts or purchase over-the-counter lottery tickets. Customers can also access their accounts for online.

“The BGOA members are ensuring strict adherence to the social distancing and sanitation protocols put in place by the competent authority for staff and patrons alike to ensure public safety is maintained. Patrons are not allowed to physically enter any gaming establishment.”

Like most businesses deemed non-essential by the government, gaming houses were mandated to close their doors in March following the prime minister’s declaration of a public state of emergency.

However, gaming houses were not included on the list of industries that could benefit from tax credits and deferrals the government offered as a part of its business continuity program.

Response 

Responding last night to the prime minister’s move to shut gaming houses back down, Island Luck CEO Sebas Bastian said the prime minister’s most recent singling out of the gaming industry in his national address “seems like yet another attempt to target a sector that employs more than 3,500 Bahamians”.

“Why the government is intent on keeping the sector closed and these Bahamians out of work is unclear. What has become apparent is that there is no logic or rationale to support the government’s ad hoc decision-making,” he said.

“Like other sectors, the gaming industry closed its doors to help mitigate the growing public health crisis, complying with all of the emergency orders announced by the competent authority. In the case of Island Luck, we committed to paying the salaries of all our employees. We sought and formally gained the approval of the National Insurance Board of The Bahamas (NIB) to pay unemployment benefits directly to all eligible employees on NIB’s behalf.”

He said Island Luck paid the balance of any shortfall not covered by NIB unemployment benefits. These efforts meant that all Island Luck employees received their full salaries for six weeks, Bastian said, adding that in the interim, Island Luck’s technical team accelerated existing plans for the implementation of new technology along with its existing drive-through capabilities, physical distancing and sanitization protocols “to ensure that we can provide our services to Bahamians at the curbside and without entering our spaces”.

“If government’s core objective is to reduce the possibility of the spread of COVID-19, we have gone above and beyond to meet that objective,” Bastian said.

He added, “The gaming industry is more than willing to do its part to halt the spread of COVID-19 and help return The Bahamas to a state of normalcy.

“To avoid further confusion, the government should make clear its decision-making processes as it relates to business openings and take an inclusive approach to this decision-making by engaging industry stakeholders the same way that courtesy is extended to other industries.

“Regardless, it leaves a glaring question: are these measures purposeful or personal?”

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