By KHRISNA VIRGIL and
Tribune Staff Reporters
AS the Bahamas Christian Council hits out at the government for rushing a gambling referendum, some local pastors are taking it one step further and calling for all gambling participation – including the participation of tourists in casinos – to be outlawed.
Bishop Cedric Moss, senior pastor at the Kingdom Life Church, has joined the debate on the legalisation of gambling and given it a new twist.
Speaking to The Big T, Bishop Moss said that civic and religious leaders failed the country when they allowed casino gambling to be introduced in 1973.
“Carlton Francis was right when he said gambling was no way to develop a new nation,” he said, adding that he believed “previous leaders and church leaders failed us by introducing gambling in our country.”
Bishop Moss said: “Bahamians are not hurt by gambling. Tourists are hurt by gambling. They are financially raped by casinos. I am saddened that we loose casinos on them to harm them and their families.”
Speaking about the effects of gambling, he said: “You just have to Google and see the negative effects gambling has on cities like Atlantic City which allow gambling. Bahamians gambling has a different affect on the Bahamas than tourists gambling in the Bahamas. What Bahamians don’t realise is that many tourists who gamble in our casinos don’t want casinos in their cities.”
“The government has ignored the church on this issue since 1973. We are opposed to all forms of gambling, including numbers and casino gambling. I think we should think thoughtfully on how we could legally bring casino gambling to a close. It was a bad decision in the beginning. To let Bahamians gamble in casinos would be another bad decision.”
Another pastor, Rev Rex Major, said casino gambling is undesirable for the country.
“The remarks by Carlton Francis during the voting on the Opposition’s resolution in condemning the government’s casino policy should set the tone for our national priorities,” he said.
“At that time, Mr Francis reminded the Parliamentarians and the nation that he thought that as a new nation, the country should first aspire for certain other qualities rather than dollars and cents value. Gambling encourages a reckless parasitic approach to life—in which one human fleeces another with no genuine personal regard for his neighbour’s welfare.”
Rev Matthew Allen, senior pastor at the Kingdom Minded Fellowship Centre International, said that while he is against gambling, he also disapproves of the hypocrisy religious leaders have exhibited.
“It’s pathetic, nauseating listening to the religious leaders of today trying to scripturally justify their opposition to gambling, whereas it’s some of these very same religious leaders who are called upon to say the opening prayer and pronounce blessing upon various resorts and casinos. How hypocritical could one be?”
Meanwhile, the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) is hitting out at the government for focusing on gambling legislation at a time when the country is facing so many pressing national issues.
BCC president Rev Ranford Patterson said yesterday that reducing crime and focusing on the country’s economy should be priorities for the Christie administration, and not seeking to expedite a gambling vote which would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
His words came amid public speculation about the driving force behind the government’s urgency to see referendum plans through to completion. Controversy has also surrounded the level of its thoroughness, as Bahamians having the right to gamble in casinos has been dismissed.
“We are opposed to gambling in this country in any capacity. I believe there are so many more pressing issues that need our attention along with social ills. I always hear people speak about this $40 million to be gained by the numbers business, but I am of the firm belief that we would need to spend more on law enforcement to police this thing properly.
“Do you know how many people would spend all they had to gamble? Social Services would need more resources to help people. The Christian Council is here to present the fact and people should be made aware of implications as a result of making this thing legal,” Rev Patterson said.
Two weeks ago, a Baha Mar executive told The Tribune that in his view Bahamians have not matured enough to be permitted to gamble in local casinos.
Robert “Sandy” Sands, senior vice-president of external and governmental affairs at Baha Mar, said that while he supports regularising number houses, he is not an advocate of Bahamians being allowed to gamble in casinos.
“I am a strong advocate of limited relaxation for Bahamians gambling in casinos. I believe the government should examine the opportunity for high net worth for persons who can verify their ability to sustain gambling for limited periods like over a month or something like that.
“I support gambling for persons who come on short-term work permits, especially in the entertainment business.
“I also support gambling for persons of high net worth who have permanent residency in the country and people with second homes,” he said.
“However, I do not support opening the floodgates totally. We are not a disciplined enough community. I understand rights, but there are some rights we have to take away from individuals for their own benefit. We have to find the balance and even with the liberalisation of the number houses there might be an opportunity where numbers may be able to be purchased through a window at the casino. But no, I do not support Bahamians gambling in the casino.”
On Thursday, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham criticised the government for not giving Bahamians the opportunity to decide whether they should participate in casino gambling.
“The public of the Bahamas ought to have a right to decide whether they want to gamble in the casino or not,” he said.