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FNM Opposes Gaming Bill

The Free National Movement (FNM) will not support the regularisation of web shops nor will the party offer its support to an ‘unfair and non- transparent’ revised Gaming Bill, FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday.

Dr. Minnis maintained that his party will continue to stand with Bahamians who voted No in last year’s gaming referendum.

“The FNM has supported and will continue to stand with the people, the Bahamian people voted in the referendum and the Bahamian people said No, the prime minister said he will honor the outcome of the referendum, I think that Bahamians will generally respect the words of any prime minister but the has shown that his words cannot be trusted,” he said during a press conference at the party’s Mackey Street headquarters Sunday..

“The FNM will say No, the Bahamian people said No, we are the servant of the Bahamian people, they told us No and we will abide by their wishes, the prime minister obviously feel that he is not their servant – he’s their master but he must learn what his job is.”

Dr. Minnis summed up the bill as nothing short of a charter for law breakers.

He further condemned the Gaming Bill as a violation of every principle of trust, accountability, transparency and fairness owed by a government to its people.

After much analyst of the bill, Dr. Minnis stressed that it limits the industry to a select few.

“The bill does not allow Bahamians who have never before been involved in web-shop gaming and the numbers business to apply of their own volition for the grant of a license, the bill provides that any applicant for what will be called a Gaming House Operators License must be “invited to apply” by the Gaming Board,” he said.

“Obviously this provides a distinct competitive advantage to existing law breakers and the select few. This is so because the members of the Gaming Board would have no way of knowing which persons, who have not been previously involved in the illegal web-shop
rackets, who might now wish to become involved in the business – unless they employ a psychic to help in reading minds. Further the bill does not provide a statutory procedure by means of which a new, intended, operator might make his intentions known to the Gaming Board, so as to receive the required “invitation” to apply for a license.”
He added that even those who are invited to apply to enter the web shop industry would be limited for the right to apply for a Gaming House Premises and Gaming House Agent licenses.

“These restrictions upon the right to apply for various licenses operate to provide a competitive advantage to existing law breakers, who are already in full illicit operation, and the select few, who might have other, non-transparent and non-statutory, methods of getting the Gaming Board to “invite” them to apply for a gaming license,” he said.

In regards to those claims that the bill lacks transparency, Dr. Minnis explained that the bill allows the Gaming Board to conduct secret meetings during the board’s consideration for license applications.
“While the bill states that all meetings of the board are to be “open to the public”, the general public will not, in fact, be notified in advance of the place and time of any meeting and, if they find out where it is being held and attend, they may be put out of the meeting,” he said.
“Obviously the government feels that the job of rewarding financial backers and the select few must take place in secret. Like the manner in which we woke up one day to learn that the management of the Harold Road Dump Site had been turned over to a foreign company, Renew Bahamas, incorporated in the Law Firm of Davis & Co., so the government apparently intends for the Gaming board to secretly allocate licenses and to divide up the spoils of victory among existing law breakers and the select few, and for Bahamians to find out about it after the deal is done.”

Dr. Minnis added that the government is seeking to introduce a new form of ‘insidious institutionalized unfairness’ in the industry.

“Casino Operators in hotel properties in The Bahamas will also be able to apply for a Restricted Interactive Gaming Licence which will allow them to market and provide internet-based casino gambling to customers who live abroad in countries whose laws do not prohibit
online gambling,” he said.

“This will create a distinct competitive disadvantage against Bahamian licensees, who will be limited to dealing “face to face” with domestic customers.”

He went on to slam the government for its continued promotion of discrimination against Bahamians in relation to gambling in casinos.

During the first reading of the Gaming Bill on Wednesday, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchombe, who has responsibility for Gaming, assured that the bill paves the way for Bahamians to gamble in casinos but stressed that it will be a gradual process.

Overall, Dr. Minnis renewed calls for the government to apologize to Bahamians for wasting millions of dollars on last year’s referendum and blasted the commissioner of police for not enforcing an order from the prime minister to shut down web shops.
“The Prime Minister has the gall to permit his government to table a bill to legalize web-shop gambling (in any of its forms) and to enable the creation of a national lottery, without having the courtesy to apologize to the Bahamian people,” he said.
“Having done so, the events following the referendum only showed the depths of the prime minister’s breach of trust and insincerity, as he publicly issued an ‘ultimatum’ to existing web-shop operators, telling them to close forthwith, and seeing nothing at all done by a weak, hand-wringing and excuse-making commissioner of police – who has publicly given every lame and sorry excuse that he could think of not to enforce the existing gambling laws.”

The government has repeatedly explained that the referendum was simply an opinion poll, therefore not allowing the outcome to be binding by law.

However, the Opposition leader vowed to amend the referendum law to ensure that any non-constitutional or consultative referendum be binding on future governments.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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