Emotive: The Chamber of Commerce wants the Government to hurry up and get on with allowing casinos. *File Photo
Emotive: The Chamber of Commerce wants the Government to hurry up and get on with allowing casinos. *File Photo

Premier Craig Cannonier last night said he was sticking to his guns on a referendum on casinos in Bermuda.

A spokeswoman for the Premier said: “There is no change to the Government’s position on gaming.  As promised, we are committed to the referendum process.”

He was speaking after we reported on Wednesday that party insiders said there was “a groundswell” of opinion both inside the OBA and among the public that a referendum would be expensive and delay a potential moneyspinner for the island.

Opposition leader Marc Bean last night said his party was prepared to discuss the casino issue — but stopped short of backing calls for a referendum to be dumped. But the island’s influential Chamber of Commerce threw its weight behind dropping plans for a referendum and said “get on with it.”

Mr Bean said the party “remained open” to discussions on “all issues relating to the people of Bermuda”.

But he added: “We are concerned at the OBA’s recurring habit of promising one thing and doing another and are particularly concerned that there appears to be a lack of faith in Bermudians and in the democratic process they championed.”

The PLP passed legislation allowing for a referendum on the issue before it lost power last December and the OBA committed to the same route in its pre-election platform.

But Mr Bean held out an olive branch when he said: “Regardless, the decision on how we as a people will move forward on gaming requires deep analysis, careful consideration and operating in the best interests of all and not special interests and a select few.”

Meanwhile, elder statesman and former UBP Premier Sir John Swan said a referendum on gaming should be abandoned and called for the ruling OBA and the Opposition PLP to thrash out an agreement to get gaming legalization through Parliament (see page 4).

He spoke out after OBA insiders said pressure was mounting inside the party and among the public for a referendum to be ditched.

It would be expensive and take time to organize, we were told, and if a firm hotel plan backed by cash was to be presented in the meantime, delays could put the prospect of new jobs in jeopardy.

Mr Bean said that questions  needed to be asked about whether casino development should be attached to hotels or become stand-alone operations and how the country would ensure responsible gambling.

He added: “Let us measure twice and cut once to ensure this is done correctly and in the best interest of Bermudians.”

But the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce threw its weight behind taking a legislative route rather than putting the issue to a public poll.

Chamber president Ronnie Viera said: “The uncertainty around what Gaming would look like in Bermuda and how the question, or questions may be phrased are two of the main reasons the Chamber’s executive is not in favour of a referendum on the subject.  

He added: “The way questions are worded in a referendum is critical and can often predetermine the outcome. The Chamber is also concerned about how Government plans on educating the general public in advance of a referendum so that we can all make an informed decision. In the opinion of the Chamber, cost is another very important reason to for go a referendum, as a considerable sum would have to be spent on a campaign to provide information to the public and prepare for a referendum.

“Additionally, more valuable time and resources would have to be deployed to run the actual election, disrupting commerce island-wide. It will not be an inexpensive process and we contend that the money can be much better spent, or saved.”

And Mr Viera said: “It is generally agreed that gaming is not the panacea or the silver bullet for Bermuda, but if it is one more amenity that may attract would-be investors or potential new visitors, we need to simply stop talking about it and get on with it.”

Shadow Minister Walton Brown, a former politics lecturer at Bermuda College, said the OBA had made “a very solemn promise” on a referendum in the run-up to the General Election. 

He added: “If they take a decision to step back from their pre-election promise, that’s a matter for them and their supporters.”