The government has agreed not to implement a five percent stamp tax on gaming house patrons or enforce its sliding-scale tax on the industry until an outcome can possibly be met at a court hearing in October, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday.
Bethel said the decision is a courtesy to domestic gaming operators and to the court.
Attorneys for gaming operators filed a suit in the Supreme Court on Thursday seeking leave for judicial review and an injunction against the government’s stamp tax on gaming patrons and the sliding-scale tax.
Alfred Sears, QC, and Wayne Munroe, QC, who appeared on behalf of four web shop operators, along with Bethel and attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General, appeared before Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles yesterday morning regarding the application.
“No injunction has been issued,” Bethel said outside court, “but out of respect for the court and the difficulty the court was in – that the court could not intelligently and in a fair, judicious way have dealt with a matter on the basis of such urgency – we’ve agreed that there would be an undertaking that the tax wouldn’t be imposed pending the hearing of the 5th of October.
“That is a courtesy that we extended colleagues opposite but also to the court so that the court is able to effectively perform its function bearing in mind that it would be unwise to… defend your right of way at your peril.
“…Rather than to have any injunction, we deemed it to be in the highest standards of judicial conduct and the
conduct of council to grant an accommodation to allow the court to have the comfort of fully considering all of our arguments so the court is able to make the best decision for the Bahamian people in the circumstances.
“So, we have agreed on a date to come back and pending that date we have agreed that the tax would not be imposed, so that the court would not feel any pressure in terms of reaching a fair verdict on these issues.”
Asked if the sliding scale tax would also not be imposed, Bethel said, “It has to be all the issues that are before the court.
“Although we had only received partial submissions and partial information, it was clarified in court that, in fact, one of the applications extends to the graduated scale of taxation as well.”
Outside court, Sears said his clients are “grateful” for the government’s decision not to impose the taxes.
Munroe said it was “a reasonable thing to do”.
Sears said, “We are grateful that the attorney general gave an undertaking to the court that the government would not enforce the stamp, as well as the gaming, taxes until the court would have had an opportunity to address our applications.”
He noted that when they return to court on October 5, he and Munroe will “argue the application” for judicial review.
The patrons tax was delayed from its July 1 start date to August 13, then delayed again as web shop operators told the Ministry of Finance and the Gaming Board that its products were not designed to levy a tax and they needed more time to program their systems and subject them to the strictures of regulatory approval.
The government set a firm date of September 1.
In a statement on Thursday night, Island Luck CEO Sebas Bastian said, “I cannot modify my gaming platform unless it is done under prescribed standards of the Gaming Board, it’s properly tested and then certified by an independent gaming laboratory.”
He added, “Globally, the best regulated and competitive gaming jurisdictions have a strong partnership between licensees and regulator to ensure competitive economics, based on mutual trust and frequent consultations.
“In The Bahamas, I expect no less.”
Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar, who has carriage of gaming, said that in addition to increasing government revenue, the new taxes on gaming houses would slow down the rate of gaming in the country.
D’Aguilar argued that domestic gaming is out of control.
The government has projected that it will collect $70 million in gaming taxes this fiscal year.
There are seven licensed gaming house operators in the country.