THE establishment of regulated web shops – even the promotion of a web-shop industry – seems to be a foregone conclusion in government circles as Referendum Day, January 28, nears.
However, some of the material being issued by the “Yes” supporters is confusing. Prime Minister Christie has made it clear that the vote has nothing to do with playing the dice in the hotels’ casinos, but everything to do with establishing a Bahamian lottery and the legalising and regulating of web shop gaming.
The two questions are: “Do you support the regulation and taxation of web shop gaming?” and “Do you support the establishment of a National Lottery?”
Although it is true as Dr Bernard Nottage says that unlawful activities cannot be regulated, we agree with the churchmen that the question should have made it clear that gaming is illegal and will remain illegal depending on the outcome of the Referendum. Only a “yes” vote can turn that illegality into a legality, which can then be regulated. At no time was this a legal industry of which anyone could be proud. But defiant Bahamians pushed the government to the wall, creating a situation that had to be regulated or closed down. Even the Commissioner of Police admitted defeat when faced with such bold defiance from the gamblers. As soon as the illegal activity was shut down by a police raid, it opened the next day with the defiant challenge: Catch me if you can!
It was obvious that the PLP government could not ride its friends too hard when it was remembered that over the years the late Percy Munnings, the numbers racket mogul, was the party’s treasurer. Mr Munnings was noted for his generosity to his party from the proceeds of his illegal gambling operations.
Also, if what seems reliable reports are to be believed, the PLP government would have been in desperate straits if it weren’t for the financial support of the numbers men during the May general election and the recent Abaco by-election. Now is pay back time.
No wonder Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe is trying to make the local lottery a tourist attraction, and has already anticipated a “Yes” vote win on January 28.
“My office,” he announced, “has already begun preparation in the event that it is a ‘yes’ and we have already begun the process of putting the machinery in place.”
It would be interesting to know if government has put any machinery in place in case of a “No” vote.
Regardless of Prime Minister Christie’s denial that his government has a “horse” in this race, it is obvious that there are many horses involved, and government is about to put the padlock on them all.
Mr Christie said government will inform Bahamians on the pros and cons of gambling.
“I assume the proponents of gambling would put it out,” he said. “I don’t want to go beyond the point where I appear to be backing their side.”
Mr Christie doesn’t have to do a thing, his people are doing if for him.
As for the numbers men, the coffers are open and the money is flowing. In Fox Hill, for example, the numbers houses with their gaudy signs are cheek by jowl along Fox Hill Road. Starting with one next door to the National Insurance Building near the Fox Hill parade, moving to the one opposite the graveyard and onto Fox Hill Road where there is another four, it appears that the numbers now have control of Fox Hill. We have heard of at least six young women who were each paid $200 on Saturday for distributing a T-shirt — “Vote Yes on Referendum Day, January 28, 2013” – and a “Vote Yes” pamphlet with the information that 3,000 Bahamians are now employed in the various gaming establishments, which a “No” vote on Referendum Day – “during these trying economic times” – would put on the “unemployment line.” No one would want to do this to their family or friends, said the pamphlet.
We have heard of a man who it was claimed was paid $2,100 for four hours to drive his vehicle through various communities with loudspeakers announcing the good life a “Yes” vote will bring them on Referendum day.
It is also talked on the streets that the “Yes” vote campaign has planned a blitz for Freeport and Abaco. It is claimed that $1.5 million has been set aside for this campaign.
“Whether the gambling vote passes or not the church has its work cut out for it,” was a comment posted by “John,” on the website. “Gambling among Bahamians,” he wrote, “has reached epidemic proportions in this country. One time ago there were men who would shoot dice under the street light or had a gambling game in some hidden place. Women would go to wash their clothes and put one 10 cent on one number here and one 10 cent there. But they did it discretely because it is disgraceful for a family woman to gamble. Don't let Grammy know you was buying numbers. Today the housewife enters the web shop just like she does the food store and everyone is so up in ya face about gambling is like the national lottery.. you open the average Bahamian women's bag and I bet you would find more number receipts than grocery receipts and some of the numbers receipts area far longer than the grocery bill!”
“Gambling,” he quite rightly concluded, “at this proportion cannot be good for the person, for the family or for the country, now the church (and Sandilands?) will have to treat these gambling addicts.”