THE gaming industry is one of the leading outlets for money laundering, National Security Minister Stuart Young said as he spoke during the debate to adopt the report of the Joint Select Committee on the Gambling (Gaming and Betting) Control Bill 2016.
“One wonders why anyone who wants to stop criminality will be opposed to the proper regulation of this unregulated industry."
He added that industry is also being used to fund international terrorism and is a major leak in foreign exchange. Many of the larger casinos are owned by non-nationals, he said, with the profits being paid in US currency and repatriated to the owners' home countries.
During his contribution, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said since the 1980’s there has been unregulated gambling in TT with billions earned.
Rowley said he was disappointed that there was no enthusiasm for the passage of the legislation.
“Religious leaders opposed to gambling and (for) many years the state turned a blind eye to it and allowed an industry to develop as if it wasn't here,” Rowley said. He recalled that when he came into Parliament in 1987 he heard then of illegal gambling game of whe whe.
“I came face to face with that and realised it was true when the state created Play Whe and the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) generated $1 billion in revenue. Look how much money was available...Where is the money that cannot be banked and what is it doing?”
Young, who spoke before Rowley, said at the start of the demonetisation of the paper $100 bills to the polymer notes, only one financial institution said they banked proceeds from the gambling industry.
"The banking industry took a decision years ago to get out of the banking of casino monies. One of the reasons is they run the risk of being blacklisted. We are here to regulate an industry that demands regulation."
Rowley said the unregulated gambling had the potential to pose a threat to the economy in many ways as it is dangerous to be unregulated.
"This is an industry that needs regulation as it can have many abuses. We are here to implement proper regulations in the industry. This is an estimated $16 billion a year industry with 200 private clubs and 20,000 gaming machines across TT," Young said.
He added that the intended law, first brought to Parliament by the opposition, will protect against criminality rooted in the now unregulated industry.
Rowley asked the opposition why they would not support the regulation describing the current state as “madness.”
During his contribution, Oropouche East MP, Dr Roodal Moonilal said the legislation needed better wording as there were vague concepts. Moonilal said there would be onerous taxation brought by the government in the current form. He added that in principle the opposition is in favour of adopting the Bill as it will bring revenue for the country.
Moonilal said the gaming sector employed some 20,000 people and likened it to the private security industry with many of the employees being women and single parents who earn low wages. He said the proposed legislation threatened those very workers who may end up on the breadline.
Rowley said the regulation is not novel as there are regulatory boards in every country with legalised gambling advising those who are opposed to gambling for religious and other views, that it is better to have regulations than none.
“Colleagues, why you not supporting this? It is late in coming, long in coming but better late than never,” Rowley asked of the opposition.
Just before the session was adjourned, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who piloted the motion, was visibly upset, pounding the desk, raising his voice and repeatedly asking why the opposition will not support a bill they brought to Parliament. He said the opposition made no objections during the Joint Select Committee examining the bill but it was now at odds with the proposed law, parts of which had the exact wording as when they introduced it.
The debate will resume on Wednesday.