Bran vows public vote on making gambling legal

By DANA SMITH dsmith@tribunemedia.net DNA leader Branville McCartney will call for a referendum on the legalisation of gambling and a national lottery should the DNA win the up-coming general election, stating it's "something we will put to the Bahamian people." Speaking Tuesday night on Citizen's Review with Erin Ferguson, Mr McCartney took an all or nothing approach to the issue, stating "necessary laws" should be put in place to stop the ongoing illegal number houses or they should be legalised and taxed. He revealed the government could make up to $100 million in taxes if gambling is legalised for Bahamians. "It's going on, it is happening everyday, all day - the numbers business, and if it's illegal then it should not happen. Plain and simple," Mr McCartney said. "To determine whether or not we're going to make it legal... we're going to put it to the Bahamian people, so that if it is passed, it is regularised and the country, the Bahamian people, will benefit at the end of the day from the proceeds." Mr McCartney named investments in healthcare, education, and Bahamian youth as items that could benefit from taxes earned from gambling. "From our understanding, the government, if it's legalised, can make in excess of $80 or $100 million a year in taxes," he said. "(However) if the Bahamian people decide that they don't want it, we'll have to put the necessary laws in place to ensure that it doesn't happen." When asked why the DNA won't take an official stance on gambling legalisation, rather than "putting it to the Bahamian people," Mr McCartney said it's because of the number of Bahamians who are against it. "There are a large number of Bahamians who don't believe in it. Not all Bahamians believe in it, there are a large number of Bahamians who say it's wrong. There are Bahamians who say it goes again the teachings of the Bible," he said. "There are Bahamians who are adamantly against it and I think that's why we find many of the leaders are afraid to touch it." When contacted for comment on the subject, former Minister of State for Finance, James Smith, said he wouldn't advise the government to rely on taxes from gambling as a means to help "balance the budge," as it has no real economic value. "The gambling issue is not as straightforward as most people seem to think. There's the economic issue of whether it's a good source of voluntary taxation," he said. "Gambling as an economic activity doesn't create value it just transfers wealth or savings from one group to another... The point of the matter is, if you have $1,000 and 10 players, one player will end up with no more than what you brought on. The economic value is pretty much zero - it's more of a moral issue rather than anything else." Mr Smith stated there are "very large groups" that oppose gambling on moral or religious grounds. "They argue that the practice by itself might have a deleterious affect on the moral fabric." Former Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Senator Michael Halkitis, had views similar to Mr McCartney, also calling for a referendum. "I think we should have a legalised and properly regulated national lottery and I support a referendum on the topic," he said. "If you have it properly regulated, of course you can bring it into the formal economy and tax it properly and use those resources to assist the government." However, in terms of the amount of taxes that could be generated from regulated gambling and lotteries, Mr Halkitis did not agree with Mr McCartney's figures. "When you're talking about taxation, portion of winnings or the gross intake of the businesses, $100 million in my mind - based on some of the other numbers I heard, it sounds rather high," he said. "I don't know what tax rate Mr McCartney is thinking of."


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