Walking into the casino in Christiansted on St. Croix or the Parrot Club in Cruz Bay, it would not be odd to see most of the gambling done by locals instead of tourists.
Usie Richards, acting chairman of the Casino Control Commission and Stacy Bourne, secretary/treasurer of the commission, emphasized to senators Tuesday that they do not want that to happen as internet gambling takes off in the territory. Richards said there were already residents on each island with “gambling issues.”
The Senate Finance Committee discussed and approved an act amending 2001 legislation setting fees and regulations for internet gambling. That legislation never resulted in getting any internet gambling licensed in the territory.
“Timing is everything, and the time to act on this is now,” said Sen. Novelle Francis Jr., who introduced the measure.
Sen. Myron Jackson asked whether the Virgin Islands government will get its “fair share” of revenue raised by internet gambling programs. Richards said funds would be raised through the $25,000 licensing fee and gross receipt taxes from the businesses running the internet gambling. Bill co-sponsor Sen. Kurt Vialet noted that other gambling operations in the territory designate a percentage of the profits for the government. He likened it to a so-called “sin tax” that is placed on cigarettes and alcohol.
“These things hurt Virgin Islanders,” Jackson said, adding that a $25,000 annual licensing fee was not much for an industry that generated billions of dollars in income.
Richards repeated several times that he and Borne were against “geo-fencing.” Geo-fencing would allow only people in the territory to gamble on internet gambling sites developed here. Richards said the plan was to open the sites up to everyone no matter where they were and would enable “new money” to come to the Virgin Islands. Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory asked him several times how much money could be generated, but he declined to give any specific number.
The bill, along with raising annual licensing fees and fines for non-compliance, would allow the Casino Commission to promulgate new regulations concerning internet gambling. The Commission’s ability under the original act to make new regulations expired in 2002.
The original law established two master franchise holders. Richards said the two parties interested in getting the program off the ground almost two decades ago are still interested.
Vialet said the measure would receive amendments in the Rules Committee.
The Finance Committee did not forward a bill to reprogram funds to be used for the expansion of the Bovoni Waterline project on Tuesday.
However, there were no objections to the bill. All senators stated support for the effort to bring about 90 more customers online for Water and Power Authority water. Vialet said the panel would make amendments to the measure Wednesday to allow the fund transfer, and it could be voted on Thursday.
Lawrence Kupfer, executive director of WAPA, testified on details of the project.
“The Bovoni Waterline Expansion Project is the installation of 4,720 feet of new distribution grade PVC water mains in Estate Bovoni, St. Thomas,” Kupfer said. “New service lines and water meter boxes will also be installed on the property boundaries of each resident. The potable water service coverage area will include Hill Crest Road, Rosa Lima Road, Purple Shop Road and Augustin Lima Road.”
Jenifer O’Neal, director of the Office of Management and Budget, testified the funds were available because the Authority had completed another project under budget. The proposal will transfer $220,000 to the Bovoni project.
Attending the hearing were Sens. Marvin Blyden, Allison DeGazon, Dwayne DeGraff, Francis, Frett-Gregory, Oakland Benta, Jackson, Janelle Sarauw and Vialet.