Gone: The ban on port gaming was one of the reasons the Veendam ditched Bermuda. *File photo
Gone: The ban on port gaming was one of the reasons the Veendam ditched Bermuda. *File photo

Bermuda gambled on the importance to cruise ships of opening their casinos while in port — and lost.

That’s Dr Ewart Brown’s take on a pivotal decision that displeased cruise lines and arguably sucked millions of tourism dollars out of the economy.

The Cruise Ship Gambling Bill was championed by then-Premier Dr Brown in July, 2009 but members of his own party helped the Opposition to defeat it.

As subsequently reported by the Bermuda Sun, the inability to gamble in port was cited by both Holland America’s MS Veendam and Carnival Cruise Lines as key in their decisions to pull out of Bermuda.

The OBA has recently expressed interest in re-visiting the issue, signaling a potential U-turn by its former UBP members who voted against Dr Brown’s bill.

Asked if the failure of the bill was more about personalities than policies, Dr Brown said: “Yes, there was a time in Parliament, about a six-month period, where if I had introduced a bill supporting motherhood, they would have tried to defeat me.”

The bill would have allowed cruise ships to operate their casinos while in port between 10pm to 5am. It went to the House on July 10, 2009, but was voted down 18 to 11, with seven PLP members voting against.

At the time, Dr Brown said: “This matter has been on the Order Paper for some time and there was nothing to be gained from the uncertainty of holding it over.

“Cruise lines and tourism partners interested in this bill needed to know where Bermuda stands on the issue.  We owe it to them to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and to be clear. Today’s vote was clear and the uncertainty is removed.

“Those cruise lines and tourism partners now know where things stand and can plan accordingly.”

PLP members voting against the bill included former Premiers Dame Jennifer Smith and Alex Scott, as well as Ashfield DeVent, party whip Lovitta Foggo, Dennis Lister, Wayne Perinchief and Patrice Minors.

Then-Chamber of Commerce president Buddy Rego at the time described the move as a “big blow to the island’s economy”.

He added: “If this means there will be around 30,000 fewer people coming into Hamilton then it will obviously have a significant effect on all retailers.”

New mega-ship Norwegian Breakaway makes her maiden voyage to Bermuda in May and cruise ship boss Kevin Sheehan has committed the ship to one year in Bermuda. But the Bermuda Sun has reported that he will consider going elsewhere if the gaming situation doesn’t change.

Asked to reflect on the defeat of his bill and its consequences, Dr Brown told us: “Well, that’s a good example of something that’s of national importance that should override petty politics or partisan politics.

“That was an easy decision. An easy decision in order to strengthen our relationships with the cruise lines, in order to give people something that they can do in Bermuda, which can get boring after nightfall.

“I thought it was a no-brainer quite honestly. And it fell victim to the petty politics. That’s all that happened.

“I think that those same people who helped to defeat it three years ago will support it wholeheartedly now. Nothing has changed.

“The request is the same but that’s just one of many examples where you’re going to see that things were defeated or resisted not on the basis of objectivity, but on the basis of petty politics.”