By RUPERT MISSICK Jr
BAHAMIANS will not be disadvantaged by whatever decision the government makes with regard to what are now draft amendments to the Gaming Act, Khaalis Rolle, Minister of State for Investments in the Office of The Prime Minster, told The Tribune.
The Gaming Act 2013, and associated regulations, will allow Bahamas-based casinos – those at Atlantis and Baha Mar, in addition to those at the Grand Lucayan and Bimini Bay resorts, to offer sports betting, in-play wagering and online gaming by cell phones and computers. There also will be incentives for “junket’ group visits.
The government, Mr Rolle said does not take lightly its duty to the country and it must accommodate the needs of investors in the Bahamian economy all “without losing ourselves in the process.”
Bahamians have proven to have shifting anxieties on the matter of gambling.
On one hand when presented with the opportunity to expand their rights with regard to webshop or online gaming and the establishment of a national lottery, the electorate rejected the question in a referendum.
Now as the government – due to the lobbying of casinos operating in the country – seeks to expand gambling options in the Bahamas to include internet and proxy gaming for foreigners residing, visiting and working in the Bahamas – opposition to the new move is being punctuated by outrage and accusations that the government is discriminating against its own citizens.
Mr Rolle said that on a personal level it has been difficult for him to navigate through the contradictions, forcing him to conclude that the furore is “more about politics than about anything else.”
“On the one hand we are saying no and on the other we are saying yes. We need to reconcile where we are as a country. The only way we can create the country we need is if we are all on the same page. The electorate on one hand can’t give the government a directive and when we seek to follow it say ‘that’s not what I mean’,” he said.
Mr Rolle said that it would only be responsible for the government to consider all of the issues attached to what it would mean to open casino gambling to Bahamian citizens.
“We need to move beyond the emotive arguments now. We have to have protective mechanisms in place to ensure that we manage society in a way that we don’t leave Bahamians at a disadvantage, but there are a cadre of issues to consider. I think we will emerge without Bahamians being disadvantaged by whatever decisions we make. In the meantime we can’t behave as if we are an island unto ourselves.
“Without foreign direct investment and migration, the Bahamas will not succeed. Foreign investment is a necessary evil, if you want to characterize it as that, and we must accommodate it without losing ourselves in the process. But if every foreign investor and every work permit holder were to pick up and leave, where would that leave us? Sure we can have our country to ourselves but will that leave us with the same quality of life we have now?” Mr Rolle asked.
Yesterday, in a passing comment to the media gathered at the House of Assembly for a press conference on an entirely different matter, Prime Minister Christie said that the government hadn’t fully considered the amendments to the act as yet.
“What y’all wanna talk to me about? The online gaming? The government of the Bahamas has not even considered yet what y’all are talking about,” he said.
Where does the opposition FNM stand on the matter? As has been typical of late, the party leadership may not be willing to follow things to their natural conclusion, leaving the issue unconsummated in the minds of its supporters.
According to FNM Chairman Darron Cash, the party’s leader Hubert Minnis’ “position on the matter has not changed and he will not be commenting on the matter.”
As Dr Minnis could not be reached up to press time we can assume that the “matter” referred to by Mr Cash is Dr Minnis’ statement regarding gambling via-a-vis the recent referendum and Supreme Court Ruling.
After the referendum was defeated at the polls Dr Minnis said the FNM saw the exercise as an effort to “legitimize illicit profiteering and financial gain at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.” He called the referendum rushed and “crafted to create confusion and polarity at the polls.”
The FNM then welcomed the ruling by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Sir Michael Barnett to set aside the injunction granted to the various gambling houses and encouraged law enforcement officials to “move with deliberate haste to uphold the Rule of Law and shut down the number houses. There must be no delay.”
However, despite what the FNM believes, the “matter” is only clear as to what the leaderships feels toward the issue of gambling and by extension the effort to legalize webshop gaming for Bahamians – but not all sectors of the party are silent on whether or not they see the prospective changes to the law as discriminatory.
FNM Senator Heather Hunt told The Tribune yesterday that her position is that in 2013 no government should be intentionally passing legislation that discriminates against the citizens of the Bahamas.
“What I think ought to happen is the constitutional commission should review the provisions that permits this discrimination against Bahamians with the view of having that provision removed. But that is a separate exercise; but the policy of having discrimination against Bahamians should not be passed until the constitutional commission has time to deal with this in totality,” she said.