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Bahamas Faces Cultural Crisis-Archbishop Reignites Gambling Debate

The Bahamas is confronting a “cultural crisis,” according to a top clergyman who says thousands of Bahamians are taking part in illegal gambling every day, negating many of the values that they should hold dear, such as planning, saving and working hard.

Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder, in a pastoral reflection letter that was read before congregations at Catholic churches on Sunday, said the fact that the numbers business flourishes and expands yearly is evidence that “there are those among us who are openly pursuing an activity that contravenes the law.”

“It is obvious, too, that Bahamians have been doing so for generations without any lasting, effective intervention by the forces of law and order,” he said.

The Christie administration has already announced plans to hold a gambling referendum before the end of the year.

That decision has been met with much opposition, mainly from Christians opposed to gambling.

Over the past several months, clergymen have also been divided on the issue.

Back in May, Archbishop Pinder issued a statement on the divisive gambling issue. At the time he stressed that games of chance in and of themselves are not evil.

However, he said the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) makes it abundantly clear that games of chance can lead to evil.

The archbishop noted that many Bahamians who wager on games of chance are often single, unemployed mothers – something he says gives rise to further concern.

“Such activities are wrong for both women and men if they play numbers to the neglect of their homes and families, their jobs, their personal and civic responsibilities. This is the real problem. No matter how small your income, it is far better to save regularly than to gamble regularly,” he said.

“Gambling in excess has a great potential for generating intemperate behaviour and for many, addictions. It is from intemperance and addiction that many societal ills arise. Therein lies the real danger of permitting gaming that is an unregulated, free-for-all. It is our duty to take whatever measures lie in our power to help Bahamians avoid the potential and dangerous pitfalls of gaming or any activity that could lead to harm for the individual or society.”

Archbishop Pinder said changing the damaging social and cultural climate must be a matter for profound concern and urgent action.

“There is much that we can and should do. The religious community must occupy a position at the forefront of reasoned commentary on the subject of the numbers business and all behaviour, which contravenes the laws of The Bahamas, presents an affront to morality or endangers the well-being of our people,” he said.

“By our vocation and commitment, we are obliged to present a more comprehensive and truthful view of the social ills plaguing The Bahamas. We must remember that the doctrine of free will to choose is central to Christianity. It is our urgent and necessary role to inform, educate and provide appropriate models so that our people can make informed and well-reasoned choices.”

The archbishop said while the fear of the consequences of law breaking may keep some people on the straight and narrow, there is a growing and widespread contempt for law with an accompanying rise in illegal behaviour.

“As the daily news reports show, rising criminality is eating away at Bahamian society and economy. Sadly, the moral character that sustains respect for the law and provides the basis for order is not generated by the law. If the law could create morality, prisons around the world would not be overcrowded,” he said.

“Nothing demonstrates more convincingly the failure of law to prevent harmful excess, addiction and outright crime than the current debate on illegal gambling in this country. Despite the fact that there have been laws against gambling since The Bahamas was a British colony, the numbers business flourished for generations as an immensely lucrative underground enterprise. Now, in the 21st century it mushrooms boldly and even more lucratively through technology-heavy ‘web shops,’ which are pretty much left to carry on with little interference from the forces of law and order. It has now spread to many of the Family Islands. And, sadly, if the numbers business is driven underground again, Bahamians will continue to patronise such operations.”

He also questioned whether the time has come to change the law in order to effectively regulate a practice that is “illegal, lawless, longstanding and unregulated.”

He stressed that the activity continues “boldly and publicly” without apparent regard and respect for or fear of the current law.

“What would be the nature of the proposed law intended to regulate the illegal lottery. Surely we deserve to be assured by public authority that the law will be enforced regardless of the outcome of the referendum,” he said.

“As best we can, we must be informed of the facts. This is the most productive course of action. Otherwise a referendum becomes an empty exercise. Armed with statistics, our decisions or commitments regarding local gambling become more defensible. This is the kind of democratic action that accords well with a Christian perspective. After all, faith is the friend of reason.”

He continued, “It is urgent for our people to understand that this permissive attitude towards the so call ‘small sins’ strikes at the heart of what we understand as democracy and order. We must obviously find and attack the roots of the problem of persistent lawlessness in our country.”

Archbishop Pinder said many Bahamians are gambling – some, he said, out of desperation.

“They mistakenly look to gaming for the miracle or ‘luck’ to rescue them from certain deep and persistent gaps in their lives. This is especially the case for those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, who are sorely tried by poverty, joblessness and a lack of marketable skills,” he said.

“Unfortunately, when people come to believe in the easy solutions, such as winning at numbers, the virtues of planning, hard work, saving, personal discipline and various forms of community cooperation that can lead to more lasting solutions are undermined.”

Archbishop Pinder said no matter how small the income, it is “far better” for Bahamians to save regularly than to gamble regularly.

He said gambling in excess has a great potential for generating intemperate behaviour and for many, addictions.

He said Bahamians need to go into the referendum knowing what happens in the web shops.

“How specifically are they contravening the present law? Can the present law, as it now stands, be enforced? How many Bahamians frequent these establishments to play games of chance? Who are they? How much do they spend per day, per week, per year? Is it disposable income, or does the spending contribute to domestic challenges in terms of stressing family relations or finances,” he said.

Rogan Smith

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