Aug. 4, 2001 – The territory is now the second United States jurisdiction — after Nevada — to authorize online gambling. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed a bill into law Friday establishing licensed Internet gaming and placing its regulation in the hands of the Casino Control Commission.
The bill was among eight the governor signed Friday — out of a mammoth stack of measures forwarded to him by the 24th Legislature following its marathon three-day session that ended July 19.
Among items still awaiting his action is the controversial enabling legislation for another form of electronic gambling — video lottery terminals. The VLT bill — one of numerous amendments to the governor's own supplemental appropriations bill — was the subject of a media blitz this week that apparently backfired, as Government House was deluged with telephone calls condemning VLT's.
A Government House release Friday evening said Turnbull had canceled plans to attend the annual meeting of the National Governors Association in Rhode Island "in order to complete his review of some 18 legislative measures pending his action" — including the 114-section appropriations bill with its truckload of amendments. The governors' meeting began Friday and continues through Tuesday. By law, the governor has until Tuesday to act on all of the bills. If he neither signs nor vetoes a measure within the allotted time, it automatically becomes law.
The Internet gaming bill, sponsored by Sens. Vargrave Richards and Almando "Rocky" Liburd, was heavily amended to give the Casino Control Commission more regulatory muscle. It awards half of the master franchise to VI Technologies, formed by St. Thomas businessmen Nick Pourzal, Michael Bornn and Tom Colameco; and the other half to St. Croix Internet Gaming Group LLP, of which Paul Arnold is a principal.
Proponents say Internet gambling will bring billions of dollars into the Virgin Islands treasury as a percentage of the money wagered. Neither Congress nor the U.S. Justice Department has taken a definitive stand on whether Internet gambling violates the federal Wire Act of 1960. The governor of Nevada signed a bill in June allowing the industry in that state, and observers say the outcome there will likely determine whether the V.I. government can clear the legal hurdles of bringing the industry to the territory.
Turnbull also signed the Teacher Training and Recruitment Act of 2001, while saying the bill needs more work. He said a section regarding housing for teachers may be "at odds with certain federal and local guidelines under the Affordable Housing Program." The measure, as introduced by sponsor Norman Jn. Baptist, originally called for a "sin tax" on alcohol, cigarettes and luxury automobiles to fund its provisions. This was removed before the Senate passed the bill.
The governor also signed but expressed concerns about a bill to set up a "boot camp"-style rehabilitation program for youthful offenders. He noted that the bill creates the program for youths convicted of criminal offenses committed prior to their 16th birthday, but the program is restricted to individuals between ages 18 and 22. He also said funding needs to be identified to implement the measure.
The governor also signed bills:
– Allowing the Board of Education to conduct annual assessments and evaluations of public school facilities, guidance operations and administration.
– Expanding the kinds of property that can be transferred to minors and lowering the age of minority for such purposes to 18.
– Requiring real estate developers to pay for laying potable water lines in new subdivisions.
– Creating a "public benefit corporation" that will enable the Carifest theme park developers to issue tax-free bonds as a means of raising capital. See the related story, "Public benefit status is big boost for Carifest".
The governor also acknowledged a Senate resolution honoring the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the oldest black Greek-letter fraternity, according to the resolution. Turnbull noted that its members have included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Cosby, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and the Virgin Islands' Judge Almeric Christian.


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