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Will The U.S. Virgin Islands Eventually Recognize The Value of An Online Casino Licensing System Much Like Curacao?

Although land-based casinos are legal in the US Virgin Islands, this unincorporated and organized territory of the United States has chosen not to license online casinos at the present time.

An expert that we spoke to from this site believes the U.S. Virgin Islands may be missing out on a good opportunity by not adopting a licensing system like the one in Curacao. He said,

“Curacao has attracted many new casino start-ups by offering licensing facilities. It would seem that the US Virgin Islands could benefit from the same level of interest if the authorities adopt a similar approach to Curacao.”

This is a common opinion with industry professionals but it’s unclear whether the US Virgin Islands will ever develop an online casino authority. To analyze the likelihood of this happening, let’s start by taking a look at the current situation.

Why does the U.S. Virgin Islands not issue online gaming licenses?

Land-based casinos are legal in the U.S. Virgin Islands, although sports betting is not. These land-based casino operations are controlled by the Virgin Islands Casino and Resort Control Act of 1995.

It’s also interesting to note that online casino gambling has been legal since the Virgin Islands Internet Gaming and Internet Gambling Act was drawn up, in 2013. However, no licenses have been issued to this point.

It’s unclear exactly why this is the case, but it could be to do with complications surrounding the issuing of the licenses and who they would be issued to.

The licensing situation in Curacao is very different to the U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands and Curacao may both have tropical Caribbean locations but their attitude towards online gambling licenses is very different. Curacao’s online gambling licensing system is one of the most popular in the world.

This is due to the ease and speed of application together with low purchase costs. It’s these factors that have attracted many igaming start ups to Curacao thereby bringing in valuable revenue. Given the obvious advantages of providing online casino licenses, opinion in the industry seems to favor a change in direction for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Will the U.S. Virgin Islands go down the same path as Curacao?

The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands needs to raise revenue in order to pay for services and facilities such as schools, healthcare, and transportation. It does this by raising licenses, taxes, and fees.

Against this backdrop, it would seem that any additional means of raising revenue would be welcomed. So, could the U.S. Virgin Islands government ever be tempted to raise funds by regulating online casinos with licenses being issued?

Another advantage of doing so would be attracting new businesses in much the same way that start-ups have been attracted to Curacao. Recently, there have been rumors that the U.S. Virgin Islands government has been considering permitting the issuing of casino licenses. There has been no definite move in this direction yet, but it will be interesting to revisit the situation in a

couple of years time and see if the U.S. Virgin Islands have followed in the footsteps of Curacao when it comes to online casino licensing

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Cranky ‘Usie’ Richards Chides Governor For Not Putting More People On Casino Control Commission

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — During Friday’s budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, acting CCC Chairman Raymond “Usie” Richards told lawmakers to talk to the governor about designating nominees for his commission.

Richards said the Division of Gaming Enforcement staff is depleted to a single person, making it impossible to keep up with its responsibilities.

The Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission’s acting chairman expressed his frustration over the lack of an administration appointed nominee for the director position of the Division of Gaming Enforcement and the position of Casino Control Commission chairman. 

Richards’ statements took place during Friday’s budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. As vice chairman of the commission, he assumed the role of acting chairman after former CCC Chairwoman Violet Ann Golden was indicted and later pled guilty to embezzling nearly $300,000 from the commission.

Cranky 'Usie' Richards Chides Governor For Not Putting More People On Casino Control Commission
CRY BABY: CCC Chairman Raymond “Usie” Richards (middle) with CCC Executive Director Barbara James Petersen (left)

“The commission remains baffled by the administration’s failure to submit a nominee for the position of chairman of the V.I. Casino Control Commission, Richards said. “On July 1, 2019, more than a year ago, the formal notice was submitted to the administration giving notice of the former chairman’s retirement.”

He also said the Division of Gaming Enforcement director position has been left unfilled and, because the administration has not provided a nominee, the division’s staff is depleted to a single person, making it impossible to keep up with the division’s responsibilities.

“The depletion of DGE’s staff to just one person makes it impossible for the commission to timely process employee applications, ensure gaming machines are properly calibrated and the required background checks on major applications are thoroughly executed,” Richards argued.

The commission’s budget request of $823,000 from the General Fund for the fiscal year 2021 will cover the salaries of the 13 positions within the commission. This amount encompasses the salaries of the vacant positions that agency officials want to be filled. The two vacancies are important positions within the commission, Richards said, and he implored the committee to speak with the governor about designating nominees.

Though Richards has stepped into the void created by Golden’s resignation, the commission’s frustration with the administration was evident throughout his Friday testimony, citing communication as the problem. In addition to the lack of appointed nominees, he said that in December 2019 Commissioner Stacy Bourne submitted her resignation letter explaining that she could not complete her term due to personal reasons.

But “to date, no formal acknowledgment of the transmitted resignation has been received and the commissioner continues to serve to ensure the agency remains functional and that the casinos, their service entities and employees can continue to exist,” Richards said.

All committee members – Senators Janelle Sarauw, Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Oakland Benta, Allison DeGazon, Dwayne DeGraff and Donna Frett-Gregory — were present for the Finance Committee hearing.

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GITTENS: ‘Let’s Get Rid Of Paid Commissioners With The Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission’

CHRISTIANSTED —  St. Croix Senator Kenneth Gittens will introduce a measure to restructure the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission, to include eliminating salaried positions for commissioners. 

Gittens’ legislation calls for V.I. Casino Control commissioners to be paid a stipend for their attendance at meetings as opposed to holding full-time salaried positions at the Commission as they do presently.

“This is an important position and Commissioners should be compensated for their efforts, but the current model has not been proven necessary or especially effective,” Senator Gittens said. 

Commissioners are paid more than $100,000 annually, plus the added cost of benefits, travel and other perks. Senator Gittens proposes paying Commissioners $500 per official meeting, not to exceed $10,000 annually and relying on Commission staff to execute day to day operations. 

According to Senator Gittens, Commissioners will retain responsibility for approving all license, registration, certificate, and permit applications. They will also still be responsible for voting on other matters of importance.

“My proposal does not come solely as a result of recent serious allegations of mismanagement at the Casino Control Commission,” he said. “This type of alleged mismanagement is just one symptom of an agency that was never structured in a way that made it fully accountable or efficient.”

The veteran senator’s proposed bill would also pose new fiscal control requirements on the Commission. In addition, the Chairman will no longer serve as the agency’s Chief Executive Officer. 

“The way it is currently set up leaves the room and opportunity for things to be less than ideal.” Long term plans for the Commission must include placing the Virgin Islands Lottery Office and the gaming aspect of local horse racing under one regulatory authority,” Gittens said. “The only difference between a video lottery terminal and a slot machine is what we call them. All gambling in the Virgin Islands should be monitored by a single agency,” Senator Gittens said.

The St. Croix legislator said it would be a way of cutting down on fraud and abuse of financial authority in local government.

“My proposal is a step in that direction as removing the salaries from the Commissioner positions will eventually allow us to expand and diversify its membership to include those in our community with knowledge of the local lottery system and horse racing.” 

Gittens said when the measure is introduced, he will ask for his colleagues’ support in moving this proposal forward. 

“This is an accountability and cost-saving measure that I believe all the members of this body can find reason to support,” he said.

Currently, former St. Croix Senator Raymond “Usie” Richards and St. Thomas architect Stacy Bourne are commissioners of the VICCC. They each make $100,000 per year as commissioners of VICCC.

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Violet Anne Golden, Former St. Croix Senator, Former Casino Control Chairwoman, Slapped With 28 Federal Criminal Charges

CHRISTIANSTED — Violet Anne Golden and accused co-conspirator Stephanie Barnes have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that include money laundering and conspiracy to commit theft from programs receiving government funds, authorities said.

The indictment comes two months after former St. Croix Senator Golden said she felt like “a common criminal” upon being removed as chairwoman of the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission.

The Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission oversees the territory’s two casinos: the Divi Carina Bay Casino on Turner Hole Road in Teague Bay and the tiny Hotel Caravelle Casino in downtown Christiansted.

Golden’s 10-year term as V.I. Casino Control Commission chairwoman expired on May 12. The V.I. Justice Department reportedly served her with a removal from office order on May 14.

Barnes and Golden were in U.S. District Court in Golden Rock on Wednesday morning. Each woman is to be arraigned on July 25.

Violet Anne Golden, Former St. Croix Senator, Former Casino Control Chairwoman, Slapped With 28 Federal Criminal Charges
Stephanie Barnes holds a manila folder up in front of her face to avoid being photographed in front of U.S. District Court in Estate Golden Rock, St. Croix.

According to the indictment, Golden, as chairwoman of the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission, and Barnes, a contractor, used Commission funds for a variety of personal expenditures, including but not limited to trips to Walt Disney World, tickets to a Broadway production of Hamilton, and making a down payment for the purchase of a vehicle.

“From 2015 to 2018 Barnes received over $450,000 in Commission funds,” prosecutors said, adding that each woman used money stolen from the Commission “for their own personal benefit,” according to the indictment.

Barnes and Golden reportedly were romantically involved with each other, several sources said. Barnes was a contractor for the Commission “purportedly performing services related to problem gaming education,” the indictment said.

Prosecutors say as part of the conspiracy, the two women drafted fraudulent invoices indicating that Barnes was giving the Commission “problem gaming services, despite the fact that Stephanie Barnes had no experience or education in problem gaming,” according to the indictment.

The indictment filed July 11 also alleges that Golden, who had an annual salary of $105,000, failed to file timely tax returns for the 2014 – 2017 tax years.

In all, Golden was charged with 28 criminal counts by the federal government; Barnes was charged with four.

Violet Anne Golden, Former St. Croix Senator, Former Casino Control Chairwoman, Slapped With 28 Federal Criminal Charges
Stephanie Emelia Barnes of St. Croix.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of the Virgin Islands Inspector General, and IRS-Criminal Investigations.

It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nathan Brooks.

An indictment is merely a formal charging document, and it is not evidence of guilt, according to U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert.

“Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” Shappert said.

https://www.justice.gov/usao-vi/pr/virgin-islands-official-indicted-embezzling-government-funds