What are we waiting for? Sir John Swan says we need gaming to help revive our flagging economy. *File photo
What are we waiting for? Sir John Swan says we need gaming to help revive our flagging economy. *File photo

Elder statesman and real estate developer Sir John Swan this week backed the idea of dumping a referendum on casinos and going for a straight vote in Parliament.

And he called on Premier Craig Cannonier and Opposition PLP leader Marc Bean to put political differences behind and come to a joint agreement to back the move to speed up the introduction of full-scale gambling on the island.

Sir John — the island’s longest-serving Premier — said a referendum would be expensive, take time and may produce inconclusive results if there was a low turnout.

He said: “I don’t think a referendum is necessary. Bermuda is in a state that we need to do some things to get this country right and do it sooner rather than later.

“The Premier should sit down with Marc Bean from the Opposition and say ‘this is in the best national interest — can we get your support for it?’ “

He added: “The OBA only has a small margin over the Opposition — unless he has all his members on board, it can’t proceed. He also needs the PLP on board. If the Premier can’t get that support, he should tell the public that he can’t get it through Parliament.”

But Sir John said that the OBA — if it had all its own MPs on board — could push legislation through Parliament without the support of the PLP.

Waterfront plan

Sir John was speaking after he recently unveiled an ambitious proposal to redevelop the Hamilton waterfront into a major draw for tourists and locals alike.

The plans include a hotel and casino, as well as retail, theatre, restaurant and other public spaces and a new ferry terminal, stretching from the current ferry dock to beyond the current container terminal at the east end of the city.

The plan was produced as a rival to plans unveiled by the City of Hamilton, which has commissioned its own designs for a new look for Front Street.

Sir John said: “We put a casino in there and a small hotel in there, with restaurants and so forth and a new ferry terminal with a restaurant above it.

“That would bring in product, capital and intellect so we can compete with the rest of the world.”

Sir John added that the casino element of his plan would be “crucial” to the viability of the development.

He said: “It would be vital because it’s part of the revenue source which is needed in order to do what we want to do.”

Sir John pointed out that lenders backing any redevelopment would want to know the money would be paid back.

And he said: “A hotel by itself isn’t going to do it, but a hotel and a casino means we will be able to pay that money back.”

Sir John added: “We don’t have the luxury of saying we’re having a referendum – if it doesn’t go through, we’re right back where we started and it sends a bad signal to the rest of the world.”

He said Government revenues had been shrinking for some time and the island needed to find new sources of cash.

Groundswell

Sir John added: “If the pie gets bigger, Government gets a bigger share and that’s what we need to do. The pie has gotten smaller and we’ve got to find ways to make that pie bigger.”

Sir John said that — in line with senior OBA insiders quoted in Wednesday’s Bermuda Sun — there appeared to be a groundswell of public opinion that wanted action now.

He added: “That’s what I’m getting — people are very fed up and frustrated. People are saying ‘go on, get some of these policies changed and restore Bermuda’s position in the world and restore Bermuda.’

Sir John said that the question of whether Bermudians and residents would be allowed to gamble in casinos could be settled by introducing strict limits or restricting use to those who could prove they had the disposable income available.

He added: “There are checks and balances that could be put in place, as other places have done, to prevent any excesses by Bermudians and residents playing.”