Members of Parliament have asked the government to consider changing the law to allow local residents to use the Casino.
The call was made during this week’s Parliament session when the Casino and Gambling Control Amendment Bill 2017 was tabled and discussed.
The Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Selafi Purcell, explained that the Bill would allow the Totaliser Agency Board (T.A.B) another 12 months to continue the functions of the Authority. The initial plan was for T.A.B to be in charge for five years.
Member of Parliament for Anoama’a West, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo, said the gambling industry requires further development because it is another avenue to attract visitors to Samoa.
“I’ve been to a Casino when I went overseas one time. Most of them are Indians, Chinese, and people from the Philippines,” he said.
“So I thought back to 2010 when this bill was first introduced in Parliament, there were a lot of criticisms from Members of Parliaments about the negative impacts of having a Casino in Samoa.
“But we’ve never had any incidents ever since the Casino opened up in Samoa.”
Fonotoe said there is a need to attract more gamblers to spend money here.
“And that is my advice to the government. Look at all the avenues to lure more people to come and invest in our country by playing in the Casino. The way I see it, there are not enough people using our Casino.”
Fonotoe added that it is a very profitable business, noting that the T.A.B has already made $2.5 million from the Casino.
Faumuina Wayne Fong, Member of Parliament for Urban West, supported Fonotoe.
“Not enough people (using the Casino) means we are not earning enough money from it,” he said.
“But I believe that the bill should be reviewed to also allow local residents without international passports to gamble as well. We should allow locals to go and play. I’ve always wanted to go and play there, but I only have a Samoan passport.
“I truly believe that if we allow locals to go and play there, it will keep them from going overseas to spend their money. Instead they will stay here and spend their money in Samoa.”
M.P for Salega East, Olo Fiti Va’ai admitted that he opposed the Act to establish the Casino when it was first introduced.
But he has changed his mind.
“Over the years, we’ve seen that there have been no problems from having a Casino in Samoa,” he said.
“What most of us feared back in the day when the idea was first introduced, especially our Opposition party, none of that has happened.”
Like Faumuina Fong, Olo suggested that they should allow Samoan passport holders to access the existing casinos in Mulifanua and Apia. He said the government should consider putting some gaming machines in bars and nightclubs so that people can play.
Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, M.P for Vaisigano No.1, went further.
He requested a license to establish a casino facility in his constituency.
Lopao’o said his constituency is one of the most beautiful places in Samoa; therefore having a Casino there means more tourists will visit.
“If we have one in my constituency, we can still restrict the locals from playing but at least it gives our tourists the opportunity to play while we go and cook for our guests.
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, said the issues raised by Members of Parliament are not new.
Looking back, Tuilaepa said there has been a lot of criticism against the government when the idea was first introduced.
“A lot of people raised concerns and criticized this idea when it was first introduced in Parliament some years ago, especially church leaders and pastors,” he said.
“Someone wrote a song about the Casino when the Act was first introduced into Parliament. The song said something about the Casino having teeth that eats up all people’s money.
“This literally means that Casino eats up all the money of those who play and leave them with no money to feed their children.”
That’s why the government restricted locals from being allowed to enter such facilities.
“So that’s why we came up with this to protect our people. And that’s why we restricted our people from going there and using their money there.”
He added that this is not the first time M.P’s have made requests to allow locals to gamble.
In response to the requests from the floor, Lautafi said the government will consider it.