FORMER finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira has alleged that local casinos are involved in organised crime and has called for them to be closed down.
She was speaking during Co-Operative Credit Union League of TT virtual pre-budget forum on Friday.
Nunez-Tesheira commented on Government's plan to establish a Gambling (Gaming and betting) Control Commission but said it was not something she personally supported.
"Because I think a major issue in our country is corruption and I think that a commission may not be the way to go. I think that gambling is definitely part of our organised crime structure in this country."
She said the country has to look seriously at the issue of crime and called on Government to increase the staffing of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), patrol waters to keep out illegal Venezuelans, where "not all, but enough of them" are involved in either prostitution, scamming, and murder, and for the country to consider whether there should be casinos at all. She added she was waiting for the day to see the Prime Minister take a strong position to deal with organised crime starting with closing down casinos.
TT Members Club Association (TTMCA) president Sherry Persad told Newsday in a telephone interview she was "appalled" and disheartened by Nunez-Tesheira's statements.
"If casinos are involved in crime why don't they do something about it? They are talking about it for so long. They are blaming somebody for doing something but they have no proof. If they have proof they should act."
She added: "We are trying hard to make a dollar and to survive and feed our families and provide entertainment and we are being blamed as an entire industry."
She said the TTMCA has been asking and lobbying for regulations and legislation with every prime minister, and will continue to do so. She stressed the owners pay taxes as they are under the Registration of Clubs Act. They are also under the Proceeds of Crime Act, have to register with the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and are audited by the FIU, and the police also come and look at their accounting books.
"It is not as if we are just open and not being governed by anybody."
Persad said owners have to apply for licences every year and this has to be approved by the magistrates court, and also have to pay taxes for each machine and table, taxes which were increased by 100 per cent (in 2017).
She also spoke on the employment impact of shutting down the entire industry.
"At this point in time do you want more people unemployed and on the breadline? We have so many single mothers employed. More and more companies and businesses are shutting down and you are calling for more to be shut down. I don't understand the economics of it."
Attempts to contact Finance Minister Colm Imbert via telephone were unsuccessful.