Former tourism minister and hotelier David Dodwell has backed plans to bring casino gambling to Bermuda.

Mr. Dodwell said an upscale Monte Carlo style casino on Front Street could provide a much needed addition to Bermuda's night-time entertainment product.

The Reefs and 9Beaches owner said he had no plans to add a casino at his own hotels. But he believes well-regulated gambling would be welcomed by visitors.

"It is a concept whose time has come," said the former UBP cabinet minister who believes his party 'made a mistake' in announcing its opposition to gambling this week.

He said the MPs should have free rein to discuss the issue openly without feeling chained to a party line.

Restaurant owner Phil Barnett also came out in support of casino gambling ahead of today's parliamentary debate.

Mr Barnett, who runs the Island Restaurant chain which includes Pickled Onion and Hog Penny, said he feared that the issue had become politicized. But he said he hoped MPs would put party loyalties aside and put Bermuda first.

"The people that still work in the hospitality industry don't deserve to have their future ability to earn money politicized. Every Bermudian should have a right to work in the hospitality industry and not have it be a god awful struggle every year to stay in business."

He said Bermuda didn't need to turn into Las Vegas to support gambling but could attract more tourists through a casino allied to a convention centre.

"My personal view is that gambling would provide much needed help to the major hotels to keep them in business and basically ensure they remain in Bermuda.

The fact of the matter is that jurisdictions around us do have gambling as a component. As much as Bermuda is and should remain about the beaches, the sun, the water, the golf - there are a lot of places that have those things and have gambling as well."

He said it was hypocritical of churches, which run Bingo nights for cash prizes, to oppose gambling.

Mr Dodwell said the potential social problems attached to gambling should be considered but he insisted this could be controlled and should not stop the idea in its tracks.

"The world has changed and there is a movement towards this now that convinces me this is something we should be doing.

"We do a great job for our tourists during the day our biggest challenge is what to do with those customers at night.

"If we approach this in the right way we could create a product that is high end and adds to our reputation as a tourist destination."