As the stakeholders of the online gaming sector push back against the government’s proposed tax increases, employees of the various gaming houses yesterday expressed fears about potentially losing their jobs and the hardship that would follow for themselves and their families.
The Bahamas Gaming Operators Association met with more than 200 employees yesterday morning at the British Colonial Hilton to advise them about the pending tax increase and the possible knock-on effect, and to field questions from attendees.
As has been widely reported, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest announced the dramatically higher sliding scale of taxes on revenue of the gaming houses on May 30.
The new tax scheme is to take effect July 1; as is a national increase in value-added tax (VAT) from 7.5 percent to 12 percent.
Jodean Woodside, a long-term employee at ASureWin, said she and her family would suffer if she was forced to join the unemployment line, noting that the implementation date of the proposed taxes has not allowed her time to brace for the potential fallout.
“How can we prepare for this – not to have any money, not to have a job?” she asked.
“Baha Mar cannot hire everybody who is displaced.
“What [the government] needs to do is relook into this decision it has made.
“We need our jobs, and…we are more than housekeepers and space cleaners.
“We are intelligent individuals. We are Bahamians and we are voters.
“Please look into this.
“We are your bosses too, you know.”
Another employee of ASureWin, Renaldo Strachan, questioned, “what more the government wants?”, as the licensed operators contribute tens of millions of dollars to the public treasury and charitable causes.
Strachan said he has dependents who need him to provide, but the government appears hell-bent on taxing the sector “into the ground”.
“We are humans too,” said Strachan, who noted that while 2,000 people could lose their jobs, there is a ripple effect for thousands more who depend on them.
“We have people at home who are depending on us.
“…You don’t want us to survive?
“…I have people depending on me just like everyone else.”
According to Island Game Executive Director of Administration and Finance Erica Laing, the taxes are not just on “the numbers boys, but you are taxing Bahamian people because the industry is all of us”.
“We are mothers, sisters, daughters, husbands and brothers,” Laing stressed.
“We have families to support.
“We have bills. We’re not black or white. We’re green.
“We are a spending power in this country, and no other business in being taxed the way we are.”
The government has said it is seeking to tax gaming operators in an equitable fashion.
Alice Whyms, the human resources manager at Ultra Games, said employees are anxious about job security.
According to Whyms, Ultra Games has 200 employees, the majority of whom are women.
“The biggest cost to an operation, as everyone knows, is labor,” she said.
“We’re going to have to look at our organization and make the tough decision: sending people home.”
It was a similar argument made by Shanette Rahming, the human resources and training manager at Island Luck.
Rahming said while the implementation of a sliding scale of taxes would result in downsizing, Island Luck does not want to have to disengage employees.
According to the Rahming, Island Luck employs around 800 people.
In the interim, Island Luck has begun rolling out internal mechanisms to assist employees, including financial advice, she said.
“This forum today was to address some of the concerns and let them know that the leaders of the organization are working tirelessly to come to an amicable resolve with the government,” Rahming said.
The association has threatened to sue the government if it fails to engage with operators, but the government has stated it is prepared for a legal battle.
The government has also used the explanation that there is a need for higher taxes to cover the social cost of gambling in Family Island communities; and that gaming taxes fall into the category of sin taxes, which are traditionally high.
The pending taxes have prompted the association to mobilize a data-driven campaign.
The gaming operators engaged independent expert Gavin Hamilton to analyze and conduct a report on the proposed tax hike.
The association said that report found the tax structure the government has proposed would bring The Bahamas’ rates among the highest in the world and result in 2,000 job losses, store closures of up to 192 venues and a reduction of marketing spending by 30 percent.
The group also released two reports on Tuesday – one from Christiansen Capital Advisors, LLC. and the other from Oxford Economics – which suggested the government used false comparisons and faulty assumptions to justify the exorbitant tax hike.
According to Christiansen Capital Advisors’ report, gaming houses earn 26 cents on the dollars, while 59 cents goes to wages and operating expenses. The report also said the gaming houses contribute $30 million to the government and charitable causes.
A video promo circulated on social media on Tuesday with gaming house staff at work, sending the message, “I need my job.”