Needed legislation to regulate the growing gaming sector is still to be put in place, according to Chairman of the Guyana Gaming Authority, Roysdale Forde, who says that a draft bill has been sitting at the Chambers of the Attorney General since last year.
Forde told Stabroek News that the Authority is anxious to have the bill tabled in the National Assembly before the end of the year and he noted that the absence of the legislation is resulting in great losses to the country’s treasury.
He said that a letter was penned to Attorney General Basil Williams asking for his assistance in ensuring that the bill is presented. He said that in his response, Williams agreed that the bill was important. However, he added that he along with the other members of the Authority met with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel on no less than seven occasions and learnt that the bill “is still under some process of review.”
Forde told this newspaper that he knows that Finance Minister Winston Jordan is very eager to have the bill brought before the National Assembly and he would be aware that members of the Authority have been meeting with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.
“There is an urgent need for legislation that could properly regulate all forms of gambling in the country… the treasury is losing considerable amounts of money by the fact that operatives in the industry are not properly regulated because of the limitations of the legislation…,” he stressed.
According to Forde, if the sector is not properly regulated, it could expose Guyana to money laundering sanctions after all the work done by government to limit the country’s exposure.
Stressing that this may be an issue that government is well aware of, he said that it is of significant importance given Guyana’s previous review by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.
He said that the gaming legislation is not only important because of the regulation of gambling but also for the monitoring and enforcement in an industry which is vulnerable to money laundering and other financial crimes.
Forde insisted that the absence of the gaming legislation will continue to see the treasury losing money. “New and lucrative ways of gambling cannot be lawfully presented to the public… and credible companies can’t properly enter the market,” he argued.
Over a year ago, during an interview with this newspaper, Forde had said that the focus of the proposed legislation would be on bringing all forms of gaming under the ambit of the law. He had explained that the current legislation governing gaming is limited to casinos and that the focus of new legislation would be “to ensure that gambling, in all of its forms, come under the ambit of the Authority.”
“What I can tell you, however, is that what the law will be seeking to do, among other things, is to bring those forms of gaming like online gambling and sports betting that [are] currently not regulated under the Gambling Prevention Act into line. It is a matter of ensuring that all gaming enterprises comply with the law,” he added.
Forde stressed that the upgrading of the country’s gaming laws has become important both from the standpoint of “seeking to facilitate a market that includes tourists and potential tourists and taking advantage of the economic opportunity which the gaming industry offers.
Of course, it is also important that we ensure that gaming itself does not drift outside of the regulations that exist and, as well, that we remain mindful of the implications of gaming for ensuring that we stay within the ambit of what, these days, are serious anti-money laundering considerations.”
New gaming arrangement
Meanwhile, during the recent interview, Forde confirmed that the Authority is aware that gaming machines have been installed at several locations following an agreement between the Government of Guyana and the Guyana Lottery Company.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon last Friday, at a post-Cabinet press briefing, was asked about the agreement between Government and the Guyana Lottery Company and whether it is in keeping with the Lotteries Act.
Harmon, in response, said that those are questions for the Gaming Authority to answer.
“These are matters which are dealt with by the gaming authority. We have established these authorities and have given them independence and therefore we expect any matter in relation to that, the gambling authority could deal with it. I would not want to comment because it didn’t come to Cabinet in any event but I would ask that you contact the Gaming Authority for as statement on that matter,” he said. Harmon’s position is at odds with what the Gaming Authority and the Ministry of Finance have since said.
Forde, when asked about the arrangement, made it clear that the Gaming Authority did not issue any approval or permission to the Guyana Lottery Company to import or distribute any gaming device.
“We are aware that the Government of Guyana, not the Gaming Authority, entered into a contract with Canadian Bank Note, which is the Lottery Company, which permitted those machines to be part of the suite of games that could be played and presented to the public,” he said.
On Monday, Finance Winston Jordan said the introduction of the gambling machines was part of a recently-signed five-year contract with the government. Jordan did not say when the contract was signed but made it clear that Guyana would benefit from the proceeds.
While not wanting to address the legality of the deal, Forde said that the government entered into the agreement with the company pursuant to the Lotteries Act. “I am not saying that it is in order.
I am saying that the Gaming Authority had nothing to do with the issuance of… permission or approval,” he added.
Forde went on to explain that in keeping with the general regulations of the gaming sector and out of courtesy, the Guyana Lottery Company wrote the Authority and provided some information about the locations where some of the gaming machines would be placed. He said that it was at this point that the Authority became aware of the operation.
He said that since then, several entities have written to the Authority inquiring about whether they could be part of a similar arrangement.