Gumbs to Lambriex: What is your authority when it comes to gambling?
Cites casino machines still appearing in bars
PHILIPSBURG – Party for Progress member of Parliament Melissa Gumbs took aim at Minister of TEATT Leo Lambriex this week, sending questions to the Minister regarding the status of his ministry’s progress on Measure H2 of the country package, which focuses on reforms and improved regulation of the country’s gambling sector. Gumbs also questioned Lambriex on the continuing appearance of casino machines in bars and restaurants, a matter that was discussed in both the central committee and public meetings handling the 2023 country budget.
“Following the SER’s report on our requested research on the placement of lottery booths in low-income districts, myself and other MPs had several questions for the Minister on the topic, throughout the budget debate,” Gumbs stated.
When asked about the long-pending gaming control board in the public meeting of the budget, Lambriex responded that progress was on target. He mentioned that an RFP (Request for Proposal) had been issued in relation to the drafting of a business plan for the board, and also informed Parliament that the TWO had hired and paid for a legislative lawyer to assist the St. Maarten gaming authority workgroup.
“The Minister stated that the legislative lawyer is meant to draft national ordinances, amendments, decrees, and other regulations related to executing the required reforms in measure H2,” Gumbs says. “In my letter with questions, I have asked for a thorough update on the progress made by the legislative lawyer and the Ministry as a whole.”
Gumbs’ secondary concern was the continued appearance of casino game machines in local bars and restaurants, particularly in districts with an already heavy presence of lottery booths.
“My letter originated from persons sending me an announcement of a bar in my home district of Defiance/Middle Region, that now has approximately four to five so-called “Video Lottery Terminals” in it,” Gumbs explained. “This comes on the heels of a lottery booth being placed directly across from the Sister Marie Laurence School, which actually caused me to submit my request for the study on lottery booth placement by the SER. Nobody blinked an eye when that booth showed up, including the Minister of Education, who I know must drive through Middle Region at least once a day.”
“The country is already plagued with too many casinos all over, with rumors of a new casino coming in the Simpson Bay area, using a simple change of address to do so. The plan is alleged to request a building permit to allow an existing hotel to reach the required minimum capacity of 200 rooms; the thinking is that this will guarantee an additional casino license for this property. This is troublesome, to say the least. The country needs to be protected from this type of loophole exploitation, contributing to this vice that hurts households and their ability to take care of their needs. In my opinion, some casinos simply need to be shut down, and a strict minimum distance between casinos needs to be regulated in order to protect the country from what’s happening at the moment,” PFP MP Raeyhon Peterson added, in an invited comment.
Gumbs said she immediately drafted her questions to Lambriex, recalling that in the public meeting for Budget 2023, he responded to her question about a mini-casino bar being offered as a concession at PJIA, with the following quote: “As mentioned, in my recent publications that came out, mentioning what is allowed and what is not allowed under the licenses. Since I see the word “bar,” automatically, if it is a bar with casino machines, it will not be allowed because it’s not allowed under the articles in their license. And I have not received any request for any new licenses.”
“The Minister of TEATT says that casino machines in bars and similar establishments are not allowed,” she continued. “But just this last weekend, a bar on Defiance Road was launched as the new agent for Cage SXM, a lottery, and gambling operating company that has been registered at the Chamber of Commerce since 2016. I found this strange, especially considering that the Minister has mentioned the work being done to curb and control the appearance of these machines.”
CAGE SXM is the St. Maarten entity of Caribbean Cage, a US Virgin Islands and Cyprus-registered company that specializes in Video Lottery and Video Gaming terminals, which are then placed in bars, restaurants, small hotels, airports, and more. The company was co-founded by Robert L. Johnson, a co-founder of BET, and Robert B. Washington, Jr. Washington Jr is listed at the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce as the director of CAGE SXM.
“My final question to the minister was to provide Parliament with the list of current lottery license holders, and whether or not CAGE SXM’s VLT games fell under his authority,” Gumbs said. “It may seem a strange question, but I think it warrants an answer. We already see that most lottery companies do not respect the parameters of their license and the law, considering the heavy presence of booths and selling agents near the Sundial School in particular. The Social Economic Council’s research and report have already confirmed what most knew to be true; that the lotteries are placing their booths, and now their machines, in our most at-risk neighborhoods and districts. This is not something we can ignore any longer, and I hope the Minister is taking Measure H2 of the country package, and his own role in this situation, seriously.”