* Photo by Simon Jones. Broad benefits: Jan Slokker says the gambling industry creates jobs and draws convention business.
* Photo by Simon Jones. Broad benefits: Jan Slokker says the gambling industry creates jobs and draws convention business.
A former Las Vegas hotel boss says Bermuda cannot afford to miss out on the benefits of the gambling industry.

Jan Slokker spent three years as a director at Caesar's Palace in the mid 1980s and believes the time is right for Bermuda to embrace "a classy style of gaming".

Mr. Slokker, now the director of catering at the Fairmont Southampton, said hotels need help and casinos would provide a strong boost.

His comments come as MPs prepare to debate the Green Paper on Gaming on Friday.

Yesterday, Premier Dr. Ewart Brown said he was "very confident" the Government report would lead to legislative change.

He added: "I expect a robust and far-reaching discussion on the issue and I look forward to it."

Speaking to the Bermuda Sun, Mr. Slokker said he had been shocked by the decline in the island's tourism industry amid the economic downturn.

And he suggested failing to grasp the nettle now would harm Bermuda and give rival destinations a competitive advantage.

He added: "What scares me is that the tourism industry is in decline. So many properties have just evaporated. Large hotels and small cottage colonies have all been affected by the decline.

"Gaming is not the answer to everything but if we don't take the step there will be further erosion and further bleeding. Not doing it puts Bermuda at a disadvantage to everyone else who is offering it."

But Mr. Slokker cautioned that if gambling was implemented it had to be done tastefully.

He said: "It has to be done with the ultimate levels of taste. I would not want to see slot machines on every street corner. It cannot be allowed to detract from the Bermuda environment.

"It has got to be done with class, with an environment like Monte Carlo's. This would be done by partnerships with the high calibre casinos - you need to get the best people involved."

Mr. Slokker said his time at Caesar's Palace had clearly shown him the financial gains of providing gambling for guests.

And he stressed that associated benefits including employment, conventions and high-class restaurants were also important.

He said: "Gaming is a cash cow. The funds that are available are fantastic but that does not mean it is not controlled.

"In Las Vegas the Gaming Commission is one the most strictly controlled operational boards. You would want to have that kind of scrutiny to create the right environment.

"There is concern here about the social aspect of gaming - maybe crime and gambling addicts.

"But I don't think that is anything we need to be afraid of. When I was in Vegas the locals saw spending $50 on gambling as part of a night out. It was just there if they wanted to do it."

He added: "I am not comparing Bermuda with Las Vegas - but when you think about what gaming has done in Vegas it is incredible. It was just a desert before but if you go there now it is one of the largest growing cities in the world.

"Gaming put Las Vegas on the map. You have to keep in mind it is also probably the largest city of any kind for conventions.

"And then there is the employment side too - many people go to live in Las Vegas for 20 to 30 years to live and find good, clean work."

UBP comes out against gambling

The United Bermuda Party has declared its opposition to the government's gambling proposals.

Leader Kim Swan said that after wide consultation with the public, his party did not believe legalized gambling was in the best interests of Bermuda.

He added: "We do not believe the small potential benefits of gambling cited by the Government out-weigh the substantial risks to the social fabric and the economic integrity of our island."

In a statement released last night Mr. Swan said the UBP appreciated the difficult financial position that the hotel industry faced but did not believe that gambling was a cure-all.

He suggested the government should hold a referendum on the matter.