US Virgin Islands Passes 'Landmark Legislation'

19 July 2001
The U.S. Virgin Islands became the second U.S. state or territory this summer to give the legislative green light to Internet gambling when the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill giving the OK to online casinos.

In a landmark vote, the Virgin Islands Senate voted 11-3 to join only Nevada as an Internet casino-friendly U.S. jurisdiction.

The vote was part of a marathon session in the Senate on Wednesday. The bill was met with great support prior to the vote and had only slight opposition.

Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd called those who supported the bill "pioneers in this billion -dollar industry" as he introduced the bill for debate and vote.

Sen. Vargrave Richards echoed Liburd's sentiments on the territory venturing into uncharted waters when he called the bill "landmark legislation."

Although the Virgin Islands is the second U.S. jurisdiction to legalize online casino gambling, it could be the first to actually see Internet casinos operating from within its borders.

Unlike the legislation that passed in Nevada which was "enabling" legislation, the Virgin Islands bill has the regulations for the industry in place.

The Nevada Gaming Commission has embarked upon a process that could take up to two years in setting up regulations and standards for online operators, while the Virgin Islands attached the a regulatory measure to existing casino gaming legislation. Online casinos operating from within the territory will be regulated by the Casino Control Commission.

The commission will still have to set up some procedures and standards for online casinos, but the process will not be as extensive or lengthy as it will be in Nevada.

Sen. Emmett Hansen II also extolled the bill, saying it "brings in money without expenditures."

The bill includes provision requiring operators who setup in the Virgin Islands to commit some of their revenues to wiring the schools with Internet access. Sen. Douglas Canton made sure the schools weren't slighted in any way and had the words "high speed" added to each mention of Internet access in the bill, assuring the schools will get the most up-to-date service.

But the session wasn't a total love fest for the online gaming industry.

Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel was adamantly opposed to the measure and felt that the Senate was compromising the betterment of Virgin Islands citizens in opening the territory up to online gaming.

"I cannot sell my soul or the Virgin Islands for the almighty dollar," she said. "We must decrease spending."

Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, meanwhile, pointed to the effects the island had seen in allowing land-based operators on St. Croix more than a year-and-a-half ago.

The "cost has far exceeded what the casino has brought to St. Croix," he said.

On hand during the debate and vote were members of the private sector who have a vested interest in seeing online gaming succeed in the jurisdiction.

St. Thomas businessmen Nick Pourzal, Tom Colameco and Michael Bornn, principals of V.I. Technological Initiative LLP, a company formed to develop Internet gaming in the territory, were all present. V.I. Technological Initiative will be awarded half of the franchises for Internet gaming under the passage of the bill.

Donastorg asked the body to hold the bill for more scrutiny, especially regarding financial benefits.

Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. disagreed with the two senators opposing the bill. He agreed that problem gamblers and addiction were legitimate areas of concern, but he predicted that once online gaming was legalized, like any activity, they would become more moderate.

Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste abstained from the vote while Sens. Lorraine Berry, Adelbert Bryan, Canton, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Roosevelt David, David Jones, Liburd, Carlton Dowe, Emmett Hansen II, Richards and White all voted in favor of the measure. Voting against the bill were Sens. Donastorg, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Pickard-Samuel.