Elsewhere: A referendum in the Bahamas earlier this year came out against permitting locals to gamble. *File photo of the Atlantis resort
Elsewhere: A referendum in the Bahamas earlier this year came out against permitting locals to gamble. *File photo of the Atlantis resort

A referendum on casinos in Bermuda should be scrapped if a resort developer comes to the table with a serious bid, a senior political insider has told the Bermuda Sun.

And the source, with close links to the highest echelons of the OBA, added that a “groundswell” of opinion both inside and outside of the party was to push ahead with casino -developments without spending time and money on organizing a public vote on the issue.

Other Government sources agreed that if a stark choice emerged between giving a developer the go-ahead to create hundreds of jobs — and waiting for the green light via a referendum — the OBA will likely choose the former. 

‘Sheer madness’

It is also understood that -Government is wary of gambling on a public vote — in case the church votes weighs in heavily against allowing casinos on the island.

The insider said: “If we had the right deal that came along and was plonked on the table, there would be a good reason not to have a referendum. And if the right deal was put on the table, it would be sheer madness to refuse it.”

And he hinted that developers could be lined up to invest in Bermuda — creating a boom in construction and jobs. He said: “There are potentially deals out there — we just need to land one. We are talking about 1,000 jobs and a $500 million investment – the Bahamas had a referendum on gambling [it came out against] and it said it wouldn’t do it again.

“I’ve not had a single person come up to me and say there has to be a referendum – it’s entirely the opposite. They say we just need to get on with it.”

The source, who asked not to be named, said setting up a referendum would take considerable time and was likely to cost a six figure sum.

The insider added: “They are not cheap – it would be somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million dollars. In this climate, that’s a lot of money.”

The source added that even framing the question – or questions – for a referendum would be a difficult prospect.

A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no to resort gambling would raise a further question on whether Bermudians would be allowed to use the facilities.

The insider said: “Resort gambling is one thing, but whether local people would be barred is another – two very distinct questions.”

Another senior political source, also with his finger on the pulse of Government, said that a referendum could be arranged and held within six months, but that there were signs of increasing impatience.

But he added: “There are people of that view – my own is that we can have a referendum within the next six months. I don’t think that’s a valid excuse but from Government’s point of view, they know the answer they want.

“If someone put up a plan, Government could go to the public and if it’s overwhelmingly accepted, if someone did come in and said ‘give me a hotel and gaming licence, but it needs to be done in a certain amount of time’ and it was presented to the public, polled and there was an 80 to 90 per cent approval rating, you could say we don’t need a referendum.”

He said: “There is that tension – it’s a little bit of a complex situation.”

The source added that there was “more public confidence in leadership” than there was during previous PLP administrations.

And he said: “If we were to present a reasonable plan to the public… the public would say ‘yes’. But I could be wrong on that.”

He said, however: “There are suggestions that there are people nibbling around the edges who have shown an interest and do have the means.”

The Bermuda Sun asked Tourism & Transport Minister a series of questions on the issue, including whether Government might consider abandoning plans for a referendum if a firm offer was tabled, what questions might be asked if it goes ahead and whether the referendum would be regarded as binding or advisory.

A spokesman for Mr Crockwell said yesterday: “All of your questions will be addressed when the House resumes in September.”

The OBA in its pre-election platform in 2012 said it would hold a referendum on allowing casinos to operate on the island, although it was not mentioned in its first Throne Speech after it won the General Election in December that year.

The then-ruling PLP committed to referendum on the issue in its 2011 Throne Speech and later passed legislation allowing for a public poll to be held.

After the House of Assembly upheld a ban on allowing cruise ship casinos to open in port, the Bermuda Sun quoted OBA MP and barrister Mark Pettingill, then an Opposition MP, as saying he had represented people who wanted to buy a hotel site — but pulled out after the 2010 Green Paper on onshore gambling was rejected.

The House of Assembly in 2010 debated the issue, but did not vote. A large majority of MPs spoke out against allowing gambling in Bermuda. Moves in favour of gambling  had been led by then-PLP Premier Dr Ewart Brown.

We reached out to Premier Craig Cannonier late yesterday afternoon but there was no comment by press time.