By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
OPPOSITION leader Hubert Minnis hit back at Prime Minister Perry Christie’s claim that the highly anticipated referendum on gambling hinges on a North Abaco by-election.
Last week, Mr Christie said the referendum would take place before the end of the year but admitted that if former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham resigns his North Abaco seat, a bye-election would take priority over the referendum.
But Dr Minnis pointed out that Mr Christie had known of the impending by-election for some time.
The party leader hinted the Prime Minister could be hoping to use the by-election as an excuse if the government fails to deliver on its promise of a referendum by the end of the year.
“Prime Minister Christie always knew that Ingraham would have eventually resigned, so you could put the pieces together yourself,” Dr Minnis said.
“That’s nothing new to him – he knew that. He made the commitment that the referendum would be done by the end of this year. All I say is that he knew a resignation was coming (and) he also knew the date that it was coming.”
Last month, Mr Christie said the Bahamas can expect a referendum on the legalisation of gambling and a national lottery before the year is out.
He said a referendum is necessary to remove the “contradictions” that have led to gambling continuing to be illegal, yet widely practised and accepted.
He said this week: “If Mr Ingraham resigns it means that a seat is vacant and that at some point there will be a by-election.
“That takes priority over any referendum that I would hold, so in terms of calendar evens for the government we have to see how that calendar of events will be influenced by the declared intention to resign by Mr Hubert Ingraham.”
He added: “(The referendum) it’s on the table and it’s on the table for this year.”
The referendum has been met with criticism from several religious groups, including the Bahamas Christian Council, which reaffirmed its stance against gambling and any attempts to legalise the activity.
In public statements last month, council president Ranford Patterson maintained that the social consequences outweigh potential revenue for the government.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of the public vote, several number house owners have banded together to launch an educational campaign.
With reports of at least 16 independent number houses in new Providence alone, another six in Grand Bahama and a few spread throughout the Family Islands, it has been estimated that a national lottery could pump more than $190 million into the Bahamas’ economy annually.