– Minister Ramjattan
By: Kiana Wilburg
The abuse of the country’s gambling laws is expected to spark debate at the Cabinet level as to whether policymakers should really consider relaxing the regulations or be stern and impose penalties when infractions are found.
This is according to Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan
Ramjattan was at the time speaking to the fact that Guyana’s only operating Casino at the Princess Hotel is in violation of the law which states that only registered guests of the hotel and overseas nationals could be patrons there.
Since its opening, the casino has been allowing locals to access its gaming stalls despite legislation that prohibits such.
Questioned yesterday, The Public Security Minister said, “I know that the law is being violated but an approach on the matter requires some amount of caution. It is something that has to be debated at the Cabinet level. In fact, it will.”
He continued, “It is a ticklish situation. The law says that only registered guests of the hotel and overseas nationals could be patrons of the casino. So do I send my officers to lock up every single local who is allowed into the hotel’s casino? No man! At least I don’t intend to do that. Perhaps we could look at trying to amend the laws to allow locals to use it or to accommodate it. But I don’t intend to be hasty with this matter.”
Ramjattan acknowledged that such a move or statement would definitely indicate a retraction on the Government’s position on enforcing the law to the letter.
The government’s position on the matter will have an impact on the proposed casino to be set up at the newly built Marriott Hotel.
The country’s regulator for casinos is the Gaming Authority, which was headed by Former Tourism Minister Manniram Prashad. The Authority also has the function to issue licences under Section 32 of the Gambling Prevention Act, monitor the operations of the casino, administer the regulations of the Act and advise the Minister with respect to the administration of the regulations and any other relevant matter. However, the life of the Board came to an end last year. Ramjattan said that he is in the process of getting the names of the new members together and submit them to Cabinet. He noted that in the meantime, the weight of the work is being carried out by the Secretary to the Board.
Meanwhile, local analysts are questioning just how well the previous Board members managed the lone casino as there have been no public reports on obvious findings or penalties.
One Financial Analyst told Kaieteur News yesterday, “The previous Board had the power to implement penalties or flag the casino for allowing certain violations which are no secret to members of the public. But we never heard anything about it. The politicians of that time were very quiet about it. Additionally, there is no mention of the taxes collected from the casino and how Guyana has been able to benefit in that regard. Perhaps the Finance Minister, Winston Jordan in his efforts to remove all opportunities for tax evasion could call upon the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to look into this matter and have it included in its reports.”
Ramjattan was informed about the concerns of the analyst in this regard and said that he intends to look into the matter. However, the Public Security Minister said that based on the reports he has received from the previous Chairman of the Authority, the Princess Hotel Casino has been up-to-date with all of its payments in taxes and fees.
The country’s regulator for casinos had made efforts to prohibit the access locals have to the casino. They contemplated at one time, placing controllers at the doors as one preventative measure. But this never materialized due to a shortage of staff at the Authority. This idea came amidst increasing complaints that locals have been allowed to enter the casino.
In the past, the Princess Hotel Management team made it clear that only guests of the hotel and foreign nationals are allowed in. But the complaints of locals still being allowed access have since increased. Some enterprising Guyanese even book rooms for a day to qualify as guests. Others reportedly tag along with the casino members who have privileges of taking guests into the hotel. The casino has been a popular spot for especially the Chinese and Brazilians.
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