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Gambling Referendum Insufficient, Advocate PM Answers Critics

A gaming advocate says while next month’s gambling referendum is a “step in the right direction,” it is “not sufficient” and he expressed disappointment that the Christie administration did not include other forms of gaming in next month’s poll.

“I am very disappointed [that] casino gaming [was] omitted. We have worked very hard to liberate Bahamians,” said former Chairman of the Bahamas Gaming Reform (BGR) Committee Sidney Strachan.

The gambling referendum is set to take place on December 3. The move gives Bahamians an opportunity to decide whether they want web café gambling legalised.

Several months ago, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham urged the Christie administration to include casino gambling in the referendum.
“If you’re going to put the question of gambling to the public of The Bahamas, then the whole question must be put,” Mr. Ingraham said at the time.
“We are singular in our decision in The Bahamas that excludes its citizens from being able to gamble in our casinos. Nobody else in the world does that.”
The law which prohibited Bahamians from participating in casino gaming was made in 1965. At the time it was also illegal for locals to work at casino tables. Mr. Ingraham said the government later reversed that decision.
But in an interview with The Bahama Journal yesterday shortly before heading into a Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Perry Christie said he never promised a casino element.

“When I was on the campaign [trail] I indicated that in the event of my winning the general elections we would go through a referendum to determine if web shops and lottery would be legalised. That is what I did. It did not include whether or not Bahamians should gamble in the casinos. It was never indicated to the Bahamian people that we would do that, so it is not a question to unilaterally impose upon them now.

“Based on advice, I indicated that it was the advice that it would be appropriate not to go ahead with a lottery. I’ve sort of been wrestling with that because ever since the Speech from the Throne I actually put that in the Speech from the Throne and the Budget Communication that followed immediately after the election I put that in. So, maybe some people are concerned or confused as to why it is not there.”

Prime Minister Christie has noted that that not every web café operator who applies for a gaming licence would be approved.

Mr. Strachan said that is expected.

“It is normal for governments to issue a limited number of licences in a jurisdiction. However, companies currently operating and those wanting to operate in the future should be allowed to participate if only under sub licences of major groups,” he said.

Mr. Strachan also told The Bahama Journal that Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis is being “disingenuous” with his criticisms of the gambling referendum.

Both Dr. Minnis and his acting chairman, Darron Cash have taken Prime Minister Christie to task over the referendum, criticising the government for “rushing” the process and not giving Bahamians sufficient time and information to make a proper decision.

“The Bahamian people are being asked to buy a pig-in-a-poke. The government will be asking them to say yes to the legalisation of web shops and the government will work out the details later. That is unacceptable,” Dr. Minnis said last week.

“The government insists that they have no position on the issue. According to the prime minister, his government and party have a position of complete neutrality. The Free National Movement does not believe him. In his communication, the Prime Minister clearly outlines many of the possible benefits of legalized web shops, while conveniently glossing over the potentially significant negative effects. It seems unlikely that his government would invest such time and energy in this referendum if they did not strongly support its passage. The FNM believes that the PLP Government is insulting the Bahamians people’s intelligence.”

But, Mr. Strachan said his interaction with the FNM hierarchy a few years ago suggested party officials would have done it the same way.

“[Dr.] Minnis was on the government committee. He is certainly being disingenuous, misleading and politically biased. They simply dropped the ball,” he said.

Mr. Strachan said while he believes the PLP could have been more inclusive of other forms of gaming he will support the referendum as it is “a step in the right direction to empowering Bahamians.”

Meantime, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) says the gambling referendum is the “clearest indication and saddest reminder” to the Bahamian public that the Christie administration is “in the hands and pockets of the illegal numbers men”

DNA Chairman Mark Humes said yesterday that December 3 will be nothing more than “payback day for services rendered.”

“To reasonably thinking Bahamians who are taking note of the vamped up public relations campaign now underway by Mr. Christie and the numbers businesses whose cause he seems to be championing, it is obvious that they are betting on the ignorance and desperation of poor, downtrodden black Bahamians to get their snake oil remedy for the country’s pressing social ills made legal,” Mr. Humes said.

He said his party hopes that Bahamians will not buy what the government is selling.

The DNA chairman says a national lottery should also be put on the table for consideration.

“It is ridiculous to think that the numbers racket can rake up money enough to be a financially successful operation here in The Bahamas, but a national lottery cannot.”

Written by Jones Bahamas

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