A referendum on casinos in Bermuda should be held as soon as possible, Shadow Finance Minister David Burt said today.

Mr Burt added that a referendum on gambling had not been mentioned in Finance Minister Bob Richards’ Budget or in the earlier Throne Speech.

And he reminded MPs that Mr Richards, when Shadow Finance Minister last year, had promised to hold a referendum on casinos “forthwith” if the OBA were to win the election.

Mr Burt said: “We challenge the OBA to hold true to their word and table the referendum legislation. The silence on this issue is unacceptable and we urge to OBA to table the bill without delay.”

Mr Burt was speaking as he turned to tourism as part of his reply to the first OBA Budget, unveiled last week.

He said he was pleased that the National Tourism Plan, which got cross-party support last year, was being put into place.

But he added: “We hope that the OBA’s plan for tourism extends beyond simply renaming the Tourism Board to the Tourism Authority.

“The Budget statement does not speak to the funding of the new Tourism Authority, not does it speak to the OBA’s pledge to eliminate the post of Minister of Tourism. We hope that the upcoming Budget debate will shed more light on these OBA proposals.?

Mr Burt said: “We hope there is more substance to come in the area of tourism than we have heard from the OBA to date and we are hopeful that the OBA will move forward on the tourism development projects that are in the pipeline.”

He added that the Budget statement had referred to the need to cut red tape and speed up the approvals process for things like work permits, planning approvals and company formations.

But he said the OBA had attacked the then-PLP Government when it set up a Special Hotel Development Committee of Cabinet to make Bermuda more attractive to investors.

Mr Burt added: “Such action was called political interference or bullying – it was even called corruption. Anything which bucked established processes and attempted to clear away red tape was met with bureaucratic resistance from within and was latched onto by the then-Opposition.”

He added that – in addition to breathing new life into tourism and international business – Bermuda should work to develop maritime industries like fishing, seabed mining and aquaculture to create new jobs and broaden the economic base.

And he said that increasing the variety of trading partners from the traditional European and US markets, including the Far East, the Caribbean and Latin America.

Mr Burt added that alternative energy technologies offered the prospect of new jobs, as well reducing energy costs and creating a greener Bermuda.

And he said that declining energy costs had the potential to release millions of dollars to help bolster the local economy.