Gamers association defends industry, says EU blacklisting a political issue

Bahamas Gaming Operators Association President, Gershan Major.

The head of the body representing local gaming companies on Tuesday defended the industry against notions that it was responsible for The Bahamas’ recent blacklisting by the European Union (EU).

Bahamas Gaming Operators Association (BGOA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Gershan Major, expressed concern over what the association chief said, are repeated stories that have been circulated in the public space to suggest that the country being added to the EU’s adverse listing of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions on March 9, had to do with the domestic gaming industry.

“The core of the concerns expressed by the EU centred on this jurisdiction’s tax infrastructure,” Major said as he referenced previous pronouncements by the EU and the government to support his statement.

“The fact of the matter is that The Bahamas was added to the EU’s adverse listing, because it failed to make commitments at a high political level, in response to all of the EU’s concerns.”

The BGOA also noted in its statement, the recent contribution made in the House of Assembly (HOA) by the Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Brent Symonette, who said, “The Bahamas’ December signing of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, and the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement, as well as the country becoming a member of the Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), should have sent a clear message to the EU and others that The Bahamas is indeed a cooperative jurisdiction …

“Notwithstanding the positive work already being undertaken, we have made a high political level commitment to discuss and address the concerns of the Code of Conduct Group by the end of 2018 and to ensure The Bahamas is delisted as soon as possible.’’

The BGOA also noted in its statement, comments made in the media by the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, who said, “They (EU) have confirmed that we have submitted everything that we needed to even before the listing; however, the (EU finance) ministers were only able to review the technical committee’s recommendation based upon our initial letter of commitment prior to taking this unfortunate unilateral decision without discussion. I would hasten to say that we have been consistently engaged with the Code of Conduct Group.”

According to Major, the BGOA certainly supports the Government’s efforts to ensure that The Bahamas is in fact delisted in the shortest possible time and further supports the efforts being made by other Non- Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) like The Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB), in assisting in these initiatives, while also looking at a broader and more comprehensive strategy to reinvent and safeguard the financial services sector.

Major said, the domestic gaming industry itself, is a highly regulated industry via the Gaming Board and continues to meet the rigor of its Know Your Customer (KYC) mandate, similar to that of the Commercial Banking sector, while ensuring it buttresses its processes and puts in place further measures to protect its customers and the industry at large from untoward behaviour.

“Finally, in an article that appeared in today’s Nassau Guardian … headlined – U.S. names web shops in raising money laundering concerns – the BGOA, wishes to note unequivocally that the approved operators meet their AML/CFT requirements, as regulated by the Gaming Board,” he said.

“As a matter of fact, the same report cited by the said gazette, went onto to say, ‘Casinos and web shops are licensed by the Gaming Board and are required to maintain strict internal controls and accounting, comply with AML/CFT requirements, and submit STRs. Geo-fencing protections built into gaming software ensure online gaming activities are inaccessible outside the country. The Gaming Board vets all online gaming platforms (software) and retains the ability to log into the programs remotely to observe operations in real time.’”

“The BGOA, is very proud of the work of the approved operators and the high standards of compliance and risk mitigation each member conducts its business operations under the capable and watchful eye of the regulator, to ensure that there is no possibility of money laundering or counter-finance terrorism activities that could possibly be conducted through the interactive form of gaming entertainment it provides.”