Sometimes in business you have to give a quick and dirty answer; no preparation, no waiting for the final accounts, just a gut instinct that the path you are about to take is the right one for your business.  

Guts equal glory. The Bermuda Chamber of Commerce is advocating that it’s time to take the quick and dirty approach and get on with gambling.  Skip the referendum and just get on with it. 

They’re worried that the expense, the haggling over language, party politics and time involved hashing it out will result in pushing hotel development further in to the ground.  Their position is simple:  no gambling means no hotels hence, no jobs for Bermudians.  

In the immediate future the Chamber executives are right. Any hotel group that relies on revenues from gambling as part of their financial model will not be interested in Bermuda. When it comes to our local hotel market however, the Chamber executives are wise to acknowledge that gambling won’t be a quick fix, a panacea for what ails tourism in Bermuda.  

Here’s why. Local hoteliers are faced with a myriad of problems that includes staggering labour costs and a short tourism season — not to mention the massive amount of money they must spend on electricity.  Even in our high season, hotels are not booked to full capacity and part of that problem is that most guests don’t stay for a full week.  Hoteliers naturally think that perhaps Mr and Mrs Northeast visitor might be persuaded by the lights and excitement of a hotel casino to part with more cash thereby closing the gap between their actual revenues and their operating costs. In order for this to work of course, they will need your cash, too.

While many Bermudians qualify their support for gambling with “as long as it’s done right,” what does that really mean? How many casinos will be allowed, will there be a tax consequence to help reduce government’s debt, how will Bermudians be trained and licensed to be croupiers? 

Roulette table

For that matter, before any Bermudian thinks about jumping behind a roulette table, what is the realistic compensation package of a casino dealer? Will casinos be smoke free in order to protect the health of their employees? What do local hoteliers think of a government run casino? I would imagine not much.

Minister of Tourism Shawn Crockwell is keen to attract new hotel development to the island and so he too endorses gambling for the island.  He’s aware of the social impact and claims that government would implement a licensing system to prevent locals from being their own worst enemies by becoming indebted to their own gambling habits. How will this be accomplished?

Do the stakeholders in international business have a say? Are they concerned about the image of Bermuda as a clean place to do business without the threat of money laundering, one of the industry’s unfortunate consequences? How will government form a regulatory body to oversee gambling? Actually, does government have plans for a gaming commission which in turn means more costs for government?   

So many questions. Premier Craig Cannonier is right to stick to his guns and hold a referendum on gambling.  The landscape of Bermuda will forever change if gambling comes to Bermuda and for that reason alone a referendum should be held.  Some may argue that to bend to the pressure of political expediency of campaign promises will only result in time and resources being wasted. I disagree.

The public has a right to know exactly how their home, their island country is going to function and whether it makes sense for gambling to be part of the tourism product and quite frankly, their lives. Have the town hall meetings, get the answers to some very tough questions and then proceed with a referendum.  

Underestimating the intelligence and patience of Bermudians to distinguish what is beneficial for their island and what won’t work is just plain wrong. Government must be accountable and perform their due diligence which includes engaging the public. Only then can Bermudians make an intelligent decision about gambling in Bermuda.