Should Barbados consider the legalisation of gambling?

Watching the sunset on Barbados’ glam west coast is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Life here is pretty good. Quite safe by Caribbean standards, our easterly position in the Caribbean means that we normally escape hurricane season, something that, sadly, does affect others nearby.

Is the sun setting on our gambling laws?

Is the sun setting on our gambling laws? (Photo Credit: Flickr / CC 2.0)

With Anglican churches and cricket greens in every village, we enjoy a heady combination of the familiar and exotic while our beaches are pleasant and varied, with the wonderfully calm on the west and thrillingly full of surf in the south. And yet, as good as things undoubtedly are, are we missing out economically where others boom?

Caribbean Casinos Bring in Tourism and Money

Barbados is one of the few Caribbean Islands where casinos are banned completely, but if we look at the revenues generated in, say, the Bahamas, we can see that it is a revenue stream that cannot go ignored for much longer.

Bridgetown, the capital and home of the government

Bridgetown, the capital and home of the government (Photo Credit: Wikimedia)

While we pride ourselves on our relaxing culture, so too do many other Caribbean Islands who manage to merge paradise and high-stakes poker tournaments effortlessly. In fact, so much revenue flows into the national income that in the Bahamas, the government has introduced an admittedly unpopular tax hike on casinos by as much as 50 percent.

Currently, the Bahamas has seven licensed gaming house operators that combine to oversee a network of 263 web shops employing nearly 3,000 people. These operations generated a hefty revenue stream of some $196 million in 2017. But when the new tax plans announced last June, one CEO representative told a local radio station that the proposed tax hikes would signal a “death warrant” for the casino industry there. He also warned that gaming would go underground, and the government would earn nothing should that be the case.

Should Barbados take advantage?

If the Bahamas do choose to tax gambling into extinction, should Barbados prepare to fill the vacancy? Well, the short answer is yes, but that remains unlikely, at least for now. Despite numerous debates about whether the introduction of casinos would have a positive or negative effect on the country, the Barbadian Government remains unconvinced, believing instead that casino-tourism, despite the obvious windfall it would bestow, would be contrary to national interests. To date, not all forms of gambling are illegal. Horse racing, held at the Garrison Savannah Racetrack, provides a popular pastime among tourists and locals alike, and there remain dedicated gambling establishments where patrons can play slot machines. Also, of course, we do have the national lottery, which runs several types of games. But that’s it. No table games whatsoever, as those fall under the ban on casinos. That means, and looking at our neighbors as it’s a biggie, no poker.

While poker games aren’t banned under Barbadian laws, yet at least, poker is a game generally played in casinos, which, as we know, are not permitted on the island. That means, therefore, that there are also no poker rooms to play, which, in turn, means that there are no legal places to play the game in public in Barbados society. Instead, the best option for locals and for that matter, tourists and visitors to the island, is to play poker at foreign online poker sites. Using the term foreign since there are no Barbados-based online poker rooms presently. However, the good news is there are no regulations that prohibit playing poker online through international poker sites for players from Barbados.

High-stakes poker tours have provided so much elsewhere in the Caribbean. Packed with huge prize pools laid over megabucks games of Omaha Hi-Lo and Texas Hold ’em, these events bring in the high rollers and professional card sharks from all over the world, which means only one thing: lots of revenue. Given our good fortune in avoiding a damaging rainy season, shouldn’t we get a slice of this money pie? Of course, we should. But resistance is understandable.

We are a peaceful island, famed for our relaxed approach to life and a hustling, bustling casino and a mega-casino would perhaps detract from that. But if we were to become a stop on an international poker tour or better yet host a high-stakes poker event, we would instantly become one of the most popular and desired destinations for tourists and high rollers alike. I mean who wouldn’t want to play here?

A New Hope

One thing that may offer some fresh hope for a new approach to legalized gambling or relaxed laws in the future is the welcome news that our new government indicated that they would seek to recruit lost revenues made from gambling in Barbados.

New laws will bring in new tourists

New laws will bring in new tourists (Photo Credit: Flickr / CC 2.0)

Back in August 2017, the Ministry of Labour announced plans to hit the local gambling industry with a hefty back-tax demand. In April, the former Attorney-General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite claimed that there was likely to be gambling in Barbados almost every hour as well as that there were machines in places that you wouldn’t believe.

Brathwaite also stated that regulators didn’t know how much profit generated from lottery scratch cards, nor how many winnings paid out, pointing out that Barbados needs to accept that either it has a gaming industry properly regulated, or it doesn’t have one at all.

Over 10 years, this has accumulated to an estimated $138 million (BBD)around $69 million (USD) — in lost money and evaded taxes. That total is from slot machines and lottery cards alone. Imagine if a regulated casino industry added into the mix? This number would skyrocket.

Hopefully, the government’s pursuit of these back taxes will give them the wake-up call they need to realize a legalized gambling industry’s potential. They perhaps they’ll move forward and legalize such an industry here in sunny Barbados.

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