By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER prime minister Hubert Ingraham yesterday accused the government of fast-tracking a limited referendum on gambling to satisfy commitments made to web shop businesses.
Criticising the Christie administration’s decision to make the issue a priority, Mr Ingraham charged that there has been little to no public education on the upcoming public vote.
“It is mind boggling to wrap your head around a referendum that’s going to decide whether or not gaming, which takes place by the illegal number operations in the Bahamas and whether we should have a national lottery, but Bahamians will not have an opportunity to determine whether or not they can gamble in the casino,” he said.
“You can’t put it forward and then say your hands are clean. You can’t make a deal with the number fellas before election, get their money, and then call upon me to support you and to vote for it. I wouldn’t waste my time with such a referendum.”
Yesterday, Bahamas Christian Council president Ranford Patterson also said the process appeared to be rushed and added that there are many social challenges that should be considered more of a priority.
Mr Ingraham added: “I don’t know why it should be assumed that we should spend all this money on a referendum to deal with the question of gambling. I want you as a female in this country to have the same rights I have under the constitution, there are many other important issues in the Bahamas.
“When I last had a referendum, the argument was that the public was not educated. But I don’t see anything happening about educating the public about the referendum, so I’d like to postpone it as much as I could so that the public can be educated.
“If you want to put the question of gambling to the public of the Bahamas then the whole question must be put. Let us bear in mind that we are singular in our decision in the Bahamas that excludes its citizens from being able to gamble in the casino. Nobody else in the world does that.”
Mr Ingraham argued that the referendum should address gaming in its entirety and take into consideration country’s “peculiar history” concerning the issue.
“In 1965 when the decision was made it was also determined that Bahamians could not be croupiers in the casino, you had to be from Western Europe. No Bahamian was a croupier in the Bahamas.
“At the time of independence in 1973, the then prime minister said at a press conference that as long as he was prime minister there would never be a Bahamian croupier in the casinos in the Bahamas because that was an established policy. They changed their mind over time.
“The public of the Bahamas ought to have a right to decide whether they want to gamble in the casino or not.”
Prime Minister Perry Christie has stated that Mr Ingraham’s resignation, and a subsequent by-election, will take priority over the referendum; however, he added that the government plans to hold a public vote on whether to legalise “web shop gambling”, and implement a national lottery, by the end of the year.