The Gambling (Gaming and Betting) Control Bill, 2021 was passed yesterday in the Senate at the Red House, Port of Spain.
A total of 24 Senators voted for the bill, including all nine Independent senators.
The six Opposition senators abstained.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert knocked the Opposition for “filibustering” for six years on this legislation.
Imbert said he recognised how important it is to regulate this sector and when he entered office in 2015 the People’s National Movement (PNM) came with almost a “mirror image” of the bill that the United National Congress (UNC) had passed during its tenure.
Imbert said the last report on the Gambling Bill was laid in the Parliament in 2019.
He said it was a “great shock” to him that after spending over 100 hours in consultation over a period of four years and no objections were made—that the Opposition will not lend support to the bill in the Parliament.
He added that the UNC knew that it was important that the Gambling (Gaming and Betting) Control Commission be appointed by the Cabinet or the minister.
Imbert said the UNC’s version of the legislation was a board appointed by the minister while the current version is one appointed by the Cabinet.
Govt losing revenue
He added that the purpose of this commission is to ensure proper revenue collection.
Imbert disclosed that up to yesterday he met with one of the credit rating agencies who asked why they took so long to adjust the Gambling Bill to allow for a simple majority.
He said he answered that they were hoping for the Opposition support.
“Anytime you come with something to deal with revenue and money and collection of money, the Opposition opposes it,” he said.
Imbert said after six years of delays they needed to get the show on the road.
The minister said their estimates of collection from the gambling and gaming sector once the commission is fully established is at least $500 million.
He said right now they get about $75 million.
Imbert said it is important to note that Trinidad and Tobago is in a very difficult situation right now with Covid-19 and the devastating effect it has had on the economy.
He added, “We have been running persistent budget deficits in T&T for some time.”
He said, “As we come out of the pandemic we have to look at ways and means of dealing with structure problems in our economy and looking at new revenue streams.
“Right now I have a $16 billion industry, if we get $30, $40 million out of that industry on an annual basis we get plenty. The country should be getting $500 to $600 million out of that $16 billion industry. It is just not fair to the ordinary taxpayer, to the salaried person whose taxes are deducted at source from their monthly income.
“It is just not fair to the ordinary worker who has to pay income tax that you have a $16 billion industry literally getting away with murder. This is a revenue stream just like property tax and just like the revenue authority we need to improve efficiency in revenue collection. We have to close the gap between revenue and expenditure so that eventually we have a balanced budget,” said Imbert.
He further noted that currently under the Liquor Licence Act a bar is allowed to have 20 amusement machines.
“If you want more than 20 amusement machines, you are a casino! Why it is bar owners want to be casino owners but not subject to regulation as a casino?” he asked.
He said if a bar owner wants to go beyond the 20 machines and have roulette and blackjack tables then it is no longer a bar but a casino.