The Christie administration will hold a national referendum by the end of the year that will give Bahamians the power to decide whether or not gambling should be legalised.
While speaking with reporters yesterday, Prime Minister Perry Christie said the referendum – a promise he made while on the campaign trail – is important because it will get rid of many of the contradictions that now exist in society.
“We cannot have the system where the Government of The Bahamas and people are paying National Insurance payments and making other institutional payments and walking around like this isn’t unlawful and doesn’t exist. That cannot go any further,” Mr. Christie said.
“I’m working on that right now. The former government did a lot of work, even to the point where they had drafted legislation. But, we are reviewing all of that with a view to provide the Bahamian public with the framework . . . of how the referendum will look.”
Prime Minister Christie said the former administration also met with owners of popular web shops and discussed the pros and cons of legalising gambling and having a national lottery.
“They had to consult to determine the feasibility of this whole exercise, the extent to which revenue could be gained from this exercise. So the necessary function within the Ministry of Finance was to place itself in a position to advise the Government of The Bahamas. And the former government, as I indicated, did do exploratory work in this regard.”
The prime minister said he does not have a date in mind, but stressed that the referendum will come as soon as possible.
“It’s just a question of when we are ready. It is not a campaign that we will participate in. We are simply going to put a question to the Bahamian people,” he said.
Mr. Christie said he recently met with officials from the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) and they have made their position known.
“One of the great arguments the church made is the impact it would have on the family. But our people are obviously free today to do whatever they please to do and the reality is that they are doing it. To what extent, I don’t know; we will find out,” he said.
The prime minister said if Bahamians vote against legalising gambling, the web shops would be forced to shut down.
“Bahamians will make a decision on what they want. If they say they want it, they have it. If they say ‘we don’t want it’ that means it will remain illegal and it will be rigidly enforced.”
Prime Minister Christie said the reality is that the economy is challenged, but he does have a sense of optimism.
“I am encouraged from the meetings with investors and in the not too distant future I am going to be having more to say about that,” he said.
“I am getting indications that things are happening and happening positively for the economy and we will be on a path. We hope to have these jobs come about.”
Officials have said that if the government legalises and taxes web shops throughout the country, it would equate to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.