AS A follow up to our comments in this column yesterday a Tribune reader has sent us an interesting article from London’s Daily Mail on the Englishman’s destructive addiction to the roulette machine and Labour’s admission that it made a mistake by relaxing gambling laws thus allowing casinos to flourish.
All the observations in the Daily Mail article are among the reasons that we made it clear in this column yesterday that our comments about the ever present “numbers racket” to the growing presence of web shops did not include the more sophisticated casino tables of the hotels.
However, with the number houses becoming over the years almost a part of the island culture, it is going to be impossible to shut them down. It must be particularly hard for the PLP to even consider closure, considering that their party’s treasurer Percy Munnings was the acknowledged numbers boss and with his gains a generous financial supporter of his party for many years.
If Percy Munnings could get away with it, reasoned the little numbers man, then why couldn't he? It was a reasonable proposition. Despite the police raids, the back room numbers trade became bolder and more entrenched.
This is why we accept that it has been allowed to become so much a part of the fabric of the Bahamas that government might as well capitulate, legalise it, tax it, and strictly control it so that it is not allowed to grow into an octopus of destruction.
However, allowing Bahamians into the hotel casinos is another matter and we agree with Robert “Sandy” Sands, senior vice-president of external and government affairs of BahaMar, that Bahamians are not “disciplined” enough to be able to gamble locally. Not only are Bahamians not disciplined enough, but neither are Britons — in fact few members of the human race, unless they have entrenched religious convictions, and strong wills, can easily escape the temptation of easy money.
Mr Sands’ comments came after Prime Minister Perry Christie, while promising a referendum before the end of the year to legalise gambling and create a national lottery, vetoed the referendum being extended to open casino gambling in the hotels to the local population.
According to the Daily Mail article, written by Sarah Bridge and Abul Taher, the extent of “Britain’s addiction to controversial casino-style gambling machines” was revealed with the disclosure “by two bookmaker giants that more than £12 billion was wagered on their machines in the first half of this year.”
The figures revealed by the “bookies” was staggering.
But the most interesting part of the article was the admission by Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman, who was a senior member of the Cabinets of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, that her government had made a tragic mistake.
“I think we were wrong,” the Mail quoted her as saying:
“We have made a mistake and we need to do something about it.
“If we had known then what we know now, we wouldn’t have allowed this.
“It’s not just ruining the high street, it’s ruining people’s lives.”
The Mail reports that this is the first time that Ms Harman, who is in charge of Labour’s gambling policy, has explicitly blamed the Labour government for the increase in gambling.
Ms Harman spoke out after hearing stories from people hooked on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOTNs) that encourage people to stake £100 at a time on roulette, blackjack or poker games hoping to win £500.
“I have received the most heart-rending letters and e-mails and calls that I’ve ever had in 30 years of being an MP,” she said, “just saying, “Please, do something about this. It’s ruined my life, it’s ruined my family, it’s really dangerous.”
“And the problem is, it’s getting worse,” she said, “that is why we need the law changed so that something can be done about it.”
Ms Harman told the Mail that FOTBs were “bringing casinos right into the high street.”
“These machines,” she said, “are like mini-casinos— they’re not like the small machines you have in seaside arcades. People get addicted and lose all their money.”
This is a matter that has to be studied carefully. If it is decided to allow the betting shops that we now have, they have to be strictly controlled so that they do not grow into a greater menace than they are now.
Government now has to decided whether to close down all local gambling, or strictly control and tax the numbers and web shops. But the ridiculous situation of turning a blind eye to open and defiant illegality can no longer continue.