YES TO ONLINE GAMING, NO TO SMALLER SENATE

July 18, 2001 – Senators said yes to Internet gambling, but no to a reduction in their ranks during a full Senate session Wednesday. They also spent hours adding a dozen or more amendments to one particular bill, only to reconsider the bill, removing all the appropriations that had been added to it.
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, calling supporters of the measure "pioneers in this billion-dollar industry," introduced the Internet gaming bill. As he did so, 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, looked on.
In his three minutes allotted for comment on the bill, Sen. Vargrave Richards called it "landmark legislation" — in particular because it is attached to existing casino gaming legislation and will be regulated by the Casino Control Commission, thus circumventing a lengthy process to develop new regulations.
Sen. Emmett Hansen II also extolled the bill, saying it "brings in money without expenditures."
However, Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel opposed it, saying, "I cannot sell my soul or the Virgin Islands for the almighty dollar. We must decrease spending."
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg expressed concern about addiction and the toll already taken on St. Croix since the introduction of casino gambling on the island a year and a half ago. The "cost has far exceeded what the casino has brought to St. Croix," he said.
Donastorg asked the body to hold the bill for more scrutiny, especially regarding financial benefits.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. disagreed with Pickard-Samuel and Donastorg's concern about gambling addiction, saying that when things become legal, they become more moderate.
After an amendment by Sen. Douglas Canton adding the words "high speed" to each mention of Internet access to be provided to all public schools as part of the bill, it was passed by a vote of 11-3, with Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste abstaining.
Voting in favor were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Adelbert Bryan, Canton, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Roosevelt David, David Jones, Liburd, Carlton Dowe, Emmett Hansen II, Richards and White. Voting against were Sens. Donastorg, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Pickard-Samuel.
On a more sour note, Donastorg began the introduction of his Senate size-reduction bill by saying, "I should just stand up and say 'So be it,'" an obvious portent of what he knew was to come.
The majority of senators have harangued Donastorg at every opportunity over the bill. He introduced the measure in response to the overwhelming public support in a referendum in last November's election for reducing the Senate from 15 to nine members.
However, there was a familiar ring to the remarks made by most senators, who said the vote reflected the loss of the goodwill of the people. At public hearings on the bill held on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, witnesses said the vote was clearly a call for a change in the Legislature.
Liburd, who voted against the reduction, said, however, that "the public has sent a message there is something wrong with the way we conduct business."
Richards, who voted in favor of the measure, said he did so because "there is a need to address what the people are asking for." Referring to binding referendums elsewhere, he said, "If we were in California, it would be one, two, three and there would be no further discussion."
Bryan, who opposed the reduction, did say, however, that "over the years, the people of the Virgin Islands have lost confidence in us."
Berry said she would support the bill but the reduction was not enough. She said she has asked Elections Supervisor John Abramson to draw up subdistricting maps for the territory, which she would incorporate into a bill.
Cole said although he voted against the reduction, he would support numbered seats as an alternative election reform.
White threatened and even passed around copies of amendments to the bill that would make the Senate a part-time job, reduce the salary to $16,000 for three months of service, and limit senators to two consecutive terms in office -– a move he suggested would make the bill unpalatable to its supporters.
However, White never introduced the amendments. Instead, a vote was taken, and the measure was defeated, 10-5.
Voting in favor were Sens. Berry, Canton, David, Donastorg and Richards. Voting against were Sens. Bryan, Cole, Dowe, "Chucky" Hansen, Hansen II, Jn. Baptiste, Jones, Liburd, Pickard-Samuel and White.
Prior to the introduction of these two major bills, the senators spent hours adding amendments to a bill concerning notices to persons on the eligibility list for affordable housing. At the end of the session, they voted to reconsider the bill and remove all amendments having to do with appropriations. Some of those were:
– to appropriate $100,000 to upgrade and extend the outfall pipe at Hull Bay.
– to appropriate $100,000 to be used as a reward for information on Police officer Wendell Williams, who has been missing on St. Croix for several weeks.
– to give $650,000 to the Church of the Holy Ghost Deliverance for its City of Refuge Project, a multipurpose center for drug rehabilitation, homeless housing and other humanitarian services.
– to give $10,000 to Charlotte Amalie High School for various uses.
– to appropriate $25,000 to develop architectural drawings and plans for construction a roof over Vendor Plaza on St. Thomas.
– to appropriate $20,000 to complete the wastewater treatment plant at Magens Bay.
Liburd said the appropriation measures would be addressed again Thursday as part of the supplemental appropriations bill.
Other measures passed in the session which ran until after 7 p.m. were:
– To provide that real property turned over in lieu of taxes become available through the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department for sale as residential lots.
– To require real estate developers to install potable water lines in new subdivisions.
– To require the Board of Education to conduct annual surveys and evaluations of schools and report back to the administration and the Legislature.

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