EDITOR, The Tribune.
The Prime Minister proudly announced that the referendum on gambling will be held on December 3, 2012. He said that there will be one question on the ballot. Either you support web shop gambling or not. He also said that the national lottery, which he had promised to allow Bahamians to decide if they want it or not will not be a part of the referendum mainly because UK consultants surmised that the feasibility was non-existent at this time. The prime minister also said that if passed, the taxes the government received from gambling could be in the 15-20 million dollar range. Wow! The government could surprise itself and secure this money by just slightly cutting back on its wastage each year.
He went on to further report certain criterion for web shops that will be legalised and said that all web shops that are currently operational will not pass the litmus test. I have several questions for the government of the day.
(1) Why call a referendum when we are not prepared to totally deal with the issue on gambling? We don’t need a referendum solely to legalise web shops. Aren’t Bahamians running successful web shops now? Bahamian’s inability to gamble in the casinos, take ownership in the casino business and truly benefitting from a national lottery are the real issues that the present government should be vigorously exploring.
(2) When will the consultancy report from the so-called UK experts be tabled in Parliament?
(3) One of the criteria the prime minister suggested that web shop operators need to have if Bahamians voted yes to the referendum is “integrity”. Are you serious? This means that either the meaning of the word has changed or that non-Bahamian web shop owners would be free to enter this business. In my opinion no existing web shop owners in the Bahamas would qualify for a license based on this comment.
(4) A local daily reported that in 2006 Bahamians were spending over 100 million dollars on the lottery in Florida alone annually so the government bragging about receiving 15 to 20 million dollars in taxes annually is laughable. The government seems to be content with just tipping the iceberg.
(5) Why can’t we just do it right this time once and for all? When the referendum is over, the gambling issue in the Bahamas will still be unresolved and it will cost the country more resources to effectively address this issue in the future. The prime minister in my view is also gambling with the jobs of possibly thousands of Bahamians and his legacy. He said that if the Bahamas voted no to gambling that he would see to it that the law was vigorously enforced. Which other entity in the Bahamas is continuously hiring Bahamians?
Pray tell me, sir, where are you going to find jobs for these Bahamians who, according to your inference, will be on the unemployment line before the New Year? Note that many people in this country have benefitted from the proceeds of gambling; whether it is sailing regattas, the church, charities, schools and political candidates. Let’s not fool ourselves. We are gambling with this issue in a time when the country is in dire need of financial resources and our economy’s growth prospects are very limited. I believe that the prime minister should reverse his decision and effectively deal with the total issue of gambling. He should also extend the referendum date.
The prime minister suggested that the government has no horse in the race, but Bahamians who are analysing his comments to date know which side of the fence he is leaning on. He has identified most of the pros of gambling as opposed to the cons. I admonish him not to gamble with the Bahamian people because the odds may not appear to be what they seem. A majority “no” vote to the referendum would certainly put him in a precarious position with the Bahamian people and just maybe for his party’s leadership.
November 6, 2012.