He told a television audience on Monday night that casinos could help the island overcome its image as an “unexciting” travel destination.
He said the One Bermuda Alliance government plans to legalise gaming were a “gargantuan” step that would redefine Bermuda and help the island rebrand and reposition itself in the tourism market.
But Crockwell played down concerns that the island could one day resemble the Las Vegas strip, saying that Bermuda’s size (21 square miles with a population of 65,000) meant that a maximum of just three casinos — integrated into either new or existing hotels — were financially sustainable.
Crockwell told television viewers that Singapore had transformed its image as a tourism destination after introducing gaming five years ago. Crockwell and Attorney General Mark Pettingill spent a week on a fact-finding mission in the Far East city state last month.
“Right now, people see Bermuda as an unexciting place, we need to change that,” Crockwell said.
“Singapore had a greater resistance to gaming than we do here. They struggle at around 50/50 and they have for quite some time. Their government said they need to do it and they have doubled their tourism in the last five years. They have raised so much revenue that they’ve built all sorts of wonderful amenities for Singaporians like an opera house and other entertainment that has been paid for from the gaming.
“Again we are on a whole different scale but the point is they have rebranded themselves as an exciting jurisdiction,” Crockwell said, adding of the three casino licences to be handed out initially at least one would go to a new hotel development.
“The financial data that we have received suggests that, based on the current tourism numbers that we have and the resident population — and it’s estimated that between 10 and 15 per cent of the resident population will participate — we can sustain financially three casinos,” he said.
“The government is committed to reserving the first licence to new development and these things are a moving target — it all depends on what a prospective developer or existing owner may put on the table.
“But we want to preserve that for new development. I, personally speaking, not on behalf of cabinet but as the minister, I don’t see more than two but who knows — if tourism grows, if we bring in an additional 100,000 tourists, we will consider it at that point.”
According to Crockwell, around 50,000 New Yorkers travel to the Bahamas each year to gamble, while other US east coast cities report similar data.
“We can go after some of that,” Crockwell said.
Government initially promised to hold a national referendum on casinos before this month’s Budget but cancelled it — at a saving of US$500,000 — and said the island’s politicians would make a decision on the thorny subject.
Premier Craig Cannonier claimed the opposition Progressive Labour Party had threatened to undermine the referendum — a claim the PLP denied.
Government is to reveal more on plans to introduce casinos to the island at a series of public meetings starting on Tuesday night. Parliament reconvenes shortly.