Today’s Opinion: More about casinos

POSTED: 05/4/11 1:55 PM

It is quite interesting to learn that the government does not only want to expand the prostitution industry, but also the gambling industry. In our editorial we expressed already our doubts about this latest move. We simply think that there are not enough customers to support even more casinos. During the low season these gaming establishments will have to rely on predominantly local customers, and that is now exactly something that also concerns the government.

But let’s back up a bit to 1996, when Coopers&Lybrand produced its by now famous survey of the gaming industry in St. Maarten. Several things became clear from that report: there are too many casinos, the casinos do not pay all their fees (there was about $1 million outstanding at the time the report was written), and the government’s noble idea to keep locals out of the casinos by appointing a small army of casino controllers was (and is) a failure of dramatic proportions.

It is of course nothing new that a lot of things in St. Maarten are regulated on paper. In the real world, it seems like those rules do not exist.

The concern about gambling addiction does not seem to be too genuine, or, put in different words, it seems not to be a major headache for the government. This appears from the fact that casino control is non-existent, and in the current policy the government openly wonders whether it even has a task to monitor the morals and the gaming habits of its citizens.

As far as that is concerned, we are with the government: it has indeed no role tom play as a patronizing authority that tells people what they are allowed and what they are not allowed to do with their money. This does of course not change the fact that the government does have a task to come up with initiatives to control gambling addiction. It’s an interesting challenge and so far, the only words we’ve read so far are: “The potential of negative consequences is considered and planned for.”

If there is a reader who knows what this means exactly, we encourage her or him to contact our office immediately, because we are totally confused about this statement.

What really ought to concern the government is of course the criminal element, but again, there are no clear plans to tackle this. Yes, the policy happily quotes a former Chicago mobster saying that legalizing the gaming industry in Illinois created a whole new market for the mob, but what good is that going to do St. Maarten?

Basically the policy is saying: we know that more gambling means more crime, but what are you gonna do about it? We would be tempted to say that the opposite is also true: less gambling means less crime. So closing down a couple of casinos could potentially have a positive effect on the crime rate.

Truth be told, we think that since we have casinos, they are here to stay, and it does not make sense to ignore that reality. What the government ought to do however, is make sure that it gets a clear insight in the money that flows through these establishments, that it gets information about the beneficiary owners, and that it taxes the casinos the way it taxes every other business on the island.

But how would that work? So far, the government has not lifted a finger to get the Gaming Control Board on the rails. Government after government has made the most tantalizing statements about this institution, but the result has always remained the same. That Gaming Control Board is still not there.

We maintain, as we have written on many other occasions, that intention plus action shows a result. The only factor that is tangible in this equation is the result: it does not lie.

And because there is still no Gaming Control Board, we feel confident saying that the government has no intention to install this Board in a hurry, otherwise it would have been there a long time ago.

The question is then: why is the government in no hurry? We figure that the answer is so simple that our readers are able to figure this one out all by themselves.

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