Miguel Vega, chairman of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association said Wednesday “some sectors of the Puerto Rico Senate are attempting to amend the Gambling Law to benefit the operators of illegal slot machines, to allow them to pay out prizes in cash.”
This “dramatic change” to public policy is being attempted without holding public hearings, he added.
“This is a back-stabbing attack against the Puerto Rico casino industry and is an evident violation of the Governor’s public policy. The casino industry generates close to $264 million a year that benefit the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, the University of Puerto Rico, and the Treasury Department,” Vega said.
“We ask the president of the Senate, Thomas Rivera-Schatz to reconsider these changes and give the industry an opportunity to present a statement at public hearings in an open and transparent discussion on how this would affect casino revenues, so important for the island’s economy,” he said.
The measure that seeks to change public policy on gambling is House Bill 1142, whose initial purpose was to adjust the costs of the licenses that the operators of the so-called adult entertainment machines currently pay, “to underhandedly allow them to pay prizes in cash.”
“It is completely disrespectful to us as an industry to rush to make amendments that would legalize cash prize pay-outs for these machines, since they were declared illegal under the Tax System Adjustments Act (Law No. 77 of 2014), even more so without evaluating in depth the impact on our industry or taking into account what the casinos pay in taxes and the requirements we have to comply with compared to these illegal machines,” Vega added.
The PRHTA called on the government to give the industry a chance to appear at public hearings, to, among other matters, explain the impact a change of this magnitude presupposes and how this will affect the recently created Destination Marketing Organization, as well as the strategies to position tourism as a driver of economic development.
“These changes put at risk more than 80,000 jobs the sector creates for the island, exacerbating emigration to the United States and reducing revenues for Treasury, because we must keep in perspective that tourism impacts more than 17 economic sectors on the island,” he pointed out.
Law No. 77 of 2014 explicitly prohibits the operation of adult entertainment machines inside commercial establishments such as department stores, pharmacies, bakeries, supermarkets, gas stations, megastores, store or restaurant chains and/or hospitals, restaurants, professional offices, and government facilities.
Businesses that operate these kinds of machines cannot be located less than 200 linear feet from schools, churches, or congregations, less than 5 kilometers from a hotel with a casino, and the machines cannot constitute the only source of revenue for the business.
Similarly, tourism industry representatives indicated interest in public hearing discussions on the money-laundering aspect, the socio-economic cost of gambling in the community, the uncertainly created in investors who contemplate investing in Puerto Rico, and the impact these changes will have on hotel/casino operations in towns like Bayamón, San Juan, Río Grande, Manatí, Ponce, and Mayagüez.