D’Aguilar: Gaming tax hike set in stone
Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday the government is grounded in its decision to increase taxes for gaming house operators, and claimed there has been little discussion on the data that supports the government’s decision.
D’Aguilar, whose portfolio includes gaming, said he will present the relevant data when he makes his contribution to the budget debate in Parliament on Wednesday.
“Obviously, I am going to speak to this at length in Parliament,” he said in the foyer of the House of Assembly. “I just find it difficult for people to conclude whether it is high (the new taxes) or not, without actually seeing the facts.
“You will see that there is no discussion on what the revenue figures are; no discussion on what the profitability figures are. So how can you conclude whether it is high or not?
“So, let’s have an intelligent conversation about it. I just think that everybody is using the hype for their own political gain to push a certain agenda. Let’s look at the numbers. Let’s analyze the numbers and then come to a conclusion. So, that’s what I intend to do.”
During the budget debate, ministers have tried to make a case for the tax increase on the sector, despite the possible loss of 2,000 jobs, as foreshadowed by gaming house operators.
Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest announced the sliding scale to be applied on taxable revenue during his budget communication on May 30.
He said the increase has to do with “equity”.
In a new survey conducted by market research firm Public Domain, 73 percent of participants viewed the new taxes for web shops as unfair.
Last week, Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine said the increased taxes being levied on gaming houses in The Bahamas are “mercenary, unconscionable and obviously discriminatory”.
The Bahamas Gaming Operators Association has claimed the gaming houses are being targeted for racial reasons, a claim the government has rebuked.
Yesterday, D’Aguilar said he does not believe the move is discriminatory, insisting that “sin” taxes are traditionally high.
“You either agree that it’s a sin or not a sin, and if you agree that it’s a sin then all sins are taxed heavily,” he said.
“The crux of the discussion is, where is the threshold: where is it high and where is it low? That is the $45 million question. That’s what we have to decide and when I speak to Parliament, I will speak to that matter.”
When asked whether the government could still adjust the rates, D’Aguilar said as far as he is concerned the pending rates are “set in stone now”.
As to the possible job losses, the minister said all of the operators have to take a step back, analyze their finances and “see how they can adjust”.
“Yes, you may have to adjust your business, but will it lead to widespread closures and shutdowns, absolutely not. I don’t think so at all, but everyone has their view and everybody is pushing their agenda.
“…You can’t conclude on this matter until you know the facts, until you know the numbers.”
When asked if the government had consulted with the gaming industry in The Bahamas on the increased taxes on the sector, D’Aguilar said, “I’ll speak to that on Wednesday.”
The association has called on the government to provide evidence that The Bahamian gaming industry is undertaxed.
The group accused Turnquest of being misinformed regarding the technicalities of the gaming industry.
The group also said the government should seek a gaming and tax expert to ensure the most informed decision is made and “everyday Bahamians don’t suffer due to misinformed calculations and wrongful comparisons”.
The sliding scale will result in the gaming revenue up to $20 million being taxed at a rate of 20 percent.
Meanwhile, gaming revenue over $100 million will be taxed at a rate of 50 percent.
According to the government, only the portion of revenue that falls within the tax bracket will be taxed at the new rate.
The government has also proposed taxing gaming patrons through a five percent stamp tax applied on deposits and any non-online games or digital sales.