Bermuda, America’s Cup, and Casinos

Published on November 17th, 2015

Bermuda captured the 35th America’s Cup in hopes of invigorating its lagging economy, but now the politicians are doubling down on some real gambling. Here’s an editorial from The Royal Gazette

Within two to three years, the doors will open into Bermuda’s first casino, changing the face of the Island for ever. There will be no turning back. It will arrive with all of the required attachments: glitz, glamour, neon lights and constant clanging of slot machines; sights and sounds alien to Bermuda.

For some, that’s the attraction. In exchange, we will get falling jobless figures and rising retail sales. At least that’s the plan, and there’s provision for two more casinos.

Apparently, the pink sand, turquoise waters and quaint white roofs are no longer enough to lure the American tourist. They want more for their buck — the same buck that will likely disappear from their pockets when they enter the casino. Winners in these gambling dens are a rare species. Many walk in with a smile and leave with a grimace.

The Act permitting the operation of a casino was passed almost a year ago and it seems very little progress has been made since. The appointment of a Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, with Richard Schuetz as its executive director, doesn’t seem to have hurried things along.

To be fair, when tourism minister Shawn Crockwell issued a progress report last month, he outlined all the hurdles that have to be cleared before gambling becomes legal. And there are many that Bermuda must conform to in order to meet international standards.

Crockwell is optimistic this first casino will be ready to rake in the cash in time for the return of America’s Cup racing to Bermuda in 2017. His optimism may conflict with reality. Whether it be a government or private venture, history dictates that a project of such magnitude will not be completed within budget or on schedule.

The long-lasting casino debate stirred controversy between the anti-gamblers, particularly the church community, and those who insist the Island must travel along a different route to create more jobs and make Bermuda a more vibrant destination. That itself is open to conjecture.

There are large pockets of hypocrisy when it comes to gambling. Maybe this form of entertainment will boost Bermuda’s economy. But at what price? The legislation passed in December last year paved the way for Bermuda to, quite literally, gamble on the Island’s destiny.

It could be a blessing if the sailing spectacle doesn’t coincide with the opening of a casino.

Wouldn’t it be better to examine what the impact on the Island will be after the introduction of gaming, rather than risk the way Bermuda will be portrayed by the international media when the races begin?

Bermudians could have had chance to express their opinions had the intended referendum not been withdrawn by the One Bermuda Alliance last year. It was, instead, put back in the hands of politicians, who, in their infinite wisdom, turned on the green light.

Will a stand-alone, privately owned casino be constructed in a central location or only within hotels, or both? A decision doesn’t seem to have been made. The public have keen kept in the dark.

What is known is that the planned hotel for St George’s will incorporate a casino. It’s part of the deal struck between the Government and the developers. The House of Assembly was undecided as to whether only hotel patrons would be allowed to play — a somewhat half-baked idea.

Tourists at other hotels and guesthouses would be irritated if they were denied entry. More importantly, it defeats the object.

Crockwell has stated that the Island would support only three casinos at most. That itself would create more controversy. No developer would consider a new hotel if it was prevented from opening a casino within its walls.

Bermuda is rapidly changing — for better to worse, only time will tell.

But the three-day festival last month during which thousands came out to celebrate sailing’s World Cup — a precursor to the America’s Cup in 2017 — on the streets and on the water was further evidence that we can no longer be seen as a stodgy home for retirees. We can party with the rest of them and provide the entertainment that Bermuda needs to change its image.

With Atlantic City on fast-track decline, other cities have taken advantage by opening their own casinos — indeed, it’s those casinos that contributed to the demise of what was once considered New Jersey’s top destination.

Baltimore now boasts two mega-casinos, Philadelphia also caters to its gamblers; in Connecticut, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have long attracted residents throughout the East Coast (and from Bermuda), and two more have been approved.

Do we need to “enhance” our product when there are so many casino choices elsewhere?

When the America’s Cup shows, before a global television audience of millions, that Bermuda is more than a sailing mecca, it could be enough to start a tourism turnaround — with or without a casino.

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