NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Island Luck CEO Sebastian Bastian said yesterday that his company will not be ready to implement the government’s gaming tax on winnings by January 1, 2021, citing a lack of consultation, due process and professionalism in the government’s snap announcement.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, Bastian said the tax itself came as no surprise to gaming operators, given that it was agreed by all parties last year.
However, he stressed that it must be implemented professionally with due process and properly communicated to the public.
Bastian said: “The manner in which they decided to announce and implement such a tax is where the surprise comes from.
“The administration has a history of talking at us and not with us.
“I find that quite unusual seeing as I have an open line of communication with many of the sitting members in this administration.”
Bastian said: “It’s about due process. We run a professional company. We don’t run a mom-and-pop shop.
“This is a massive change to a big industry.”
Bastian said his patrons deserve adequate time to be informed and to understand what the tax means for their winnings and how it will be administered.
He said he also needs to ensure his staff is properly educated on the new procedure, to better be able to assist patrons and avoid customer service issues.
He added that since the modification to the company’s system to include the tax, time is now needed to test it and ensure it is running efficiently.
But Bastian insisted that these preparations cannot be done in a short time frame, especially during the holiday season.
He said: “Christmas is next week. I’m definitely not interested or will be bothered with that during this festive season. Pressure been tall all year.
“It’s been a very difficult year for myself and us all. My programmers are off as of Monday and they’re certainly not going to be able to test and make sure that that system is working by January 1.”
He added: “I’m not going to be ready for the first. I can’t be ready for the first. Not if I’m going to do it best in class like we do everything, professionally, and roll it out consistent with what the expectations are and most importantly making sure that the customers are properly informed and educated on such a task.”
The Island Luck CEO said while he is not asking for a grace period, he suggests that all stakeholders discuss a collective effort to roll out the tax in a manner that’s consistent with best practice.
While presenting the Fiscal Strategy Report in the Senate on Wednesday, Minister of State for Finance Kwasi Thompson announced that starting January 1, 2021, the government will implement a long-planned gaming tax on winnings to help counter significant revenue losses.
However, the gaming tax on winnings will not apply to casinos.
“This industry has not had a seat at the table that made decisions that made us strapped for cash in the first place, but it seems to be the one industry where they always come to look for the funding to assist with that strap for cash,” Bastian added.
While the gaming tax will be a pass-through to patrons, Bastian suggested yesterday that the implementation will create additional challenges for the industry, including driving more people to underground gaming.
“The government has done zero to combat the current existing black and underground market in the numbers industry,” he said.
“It’s grown tremendously during all of the lockdowns.”
Bastian said that instead of paying a series of taxes to game legally, players will seek better deals and move to the black and underground markets that have no enforcement.
“People are loyal to their needs. They’re loyal to their payouts. They are going to go where they find the best deal.
“For us, it’s a pass-through tax. We don’t have a horse in the race. But we know enough about the industry and what’s best and what’s not best for it.
“With proper consultation, which we’ve always been deprived of, these kinds of things can be avoided, but this is how we roll.”
Bastian said the timing of the tax is unfortunate, given the extra burden placed on the Bahamian consumer.
“This is another tax on them,” he said.
“This is not the Christmas gift I imagine they were expecting; but, listen, it’s the law and we have every intention of complying with the law”.