FRIDAY, NOV. 25: As cruise lines reduce their presence in Bermuda, observers point to a crucial political vote on gaming.

On July 10, 2009 then-Premier Ewart Brown tried to pass the Cruise Ship Gambling Bill in the House of Assembly. But UBP MPs and the PLP backbench defeated the bill by voting against it.

The vote was 18 to 11, with seven PLP members voting against the legislation that would have allowed cruise ships to open their casinos in port from 10pm to 5am.

Premier Dr. Brown had pushed the bill as a way to attract and keep cruise lines in Bermuda. At the time he 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.

Mr Scott said yesterday he had no regrets about his vote — and said he was sceptical about cruise lines claiming the lack of in-port gambling had forced them to axe Bermuda.

Staying on board

He added: “If gaming is allowed, it certainly means that a percentage of passengers will stay on board. The whole point of attracting people in your country is to maximise the benefit to storekeepers and the economy generally. Bermuda is not unique in this — I’ve cruised extensively and the vast majority of jurisdictions don’t allow it.

“I find it somewhat surprising that the notion is being spread abroad that cruise lines, or a cruise line at least, is discontinuing its visits because of gaming. I don’t believe this is the whole story, or the real story at all.”

Mr Scott added that his feeling was that cruise lines may have hoped for gaming in port in Bermuda as a bargaining tool for other jurisdictions.

He said: “That’s my theory — it would have been the thin end of the wedge for other places… We may have saved Bermuda a great deal of harm – the mecca of gambling, Las Vegas, is struggling. There isn’t the expendable cash to keep Las Vegas going and one Caribbean island has shut down the facility it had for gaming.”

Hoteliers were upset

The 2009 vote provoked an angry response from members of the tourist trade. The Bermuda Hotel Association claimed at the time that allowing liners to open their casinos while docked in Bermuda was vital to the future of the industry. John Harvey, CEO of the association, said the island was marooning itself in the past by refusing to give customers what they want.