EDITOR, The Tribune.
The Gambling Referendum has left much to be desired. Too many questions are left unanswered. The Referendum is both divisive and controversial. Voters have been given a mere 26 days to make a decision that has the potential to destroy families and increase crime. Even the questions that Bahamians have been asked to vote on are not legally correct. The first question is very misleading. It reads
“Do you support the regulation and taxation of Web Shop gaming?
You cannot call the illegal numbers racket web shop gaming. There is no such thing as web shop gaming. Web shops were never granted license to gamble even though they have been gambling illegally for many years. The illegal numbers rackets have been in existence for decades and the destruction it has inflicted on poor Bahamians has been monumental. It is not an industry but a criminal enterprise that has gained the support of politicians. The government of the Bahamas is asking the electorate to legalise these criminal enterprises that have previously been raided by police with their owners and customers dragged before the courts for illegal gambling. These same number houses have the potential to launder millions of dollars if they are legalised. The devastation caused by gambling has added greatly to the many social ills that have plagued the Bahamas for so long.
We have called for the closure of all number houses throughout the nation before the Referendum is put to the people. We again appeal to the government of the Bahamas and the Minister of National Security to shut these illegal gambling houses down until the voting is completed. We have noted that the minister has since indicated that if the “VOTE YES” campaign prevails, the numbers houses would have to be closed down for up to three months while the government begins the licensing and regulation process. Prime Minister Christie is on record saying that if the majority of Bahamians support the ‘VOTE NO’ campaign then he would shut down the illegal numbers houses. We will definitely be watching to see that this is done immediately, should the “VOTE NO” campaign win. We are requesting that the number houses be shut down now before the votes are cast. In that way, the government will not be legalising an existing criminal enterprise should the “YES” vote win.
We also take exception to the blatant way the “VOTE YES” campaign is abusing the electoral process by openly giving away cash, cars, houses and gifts to voters, which is obviously being used to sway their votes. This is a form of bribery and should be looked into by the Parliamentary Commissioner, as any inducement to persuade voters is illegal. We expect the Save the Bahamas Campaign under the direction of the Bahamas Christian Council, to do all in its power to see that Bahamians receive vital information needed before making such an important decision.
Furthermore, “Citizens For Justice” is calling on the government of the Bahamas to immediately provide information to voters that would inform the electorate of the negative or positive aspects of gambling before the national referendum. We believe that the Gaming Board has a responsibility to the nation to inform us of the pros and cons of gambling? What are the consequences of gambling addiction? What has happened in other jurisdictions where gambling has been legalised? If the government refuses to release this vital information, we are asking voters to go on-line and search for themselves. One can simply google “gambling addiction” and see the suffering that has been inflicted on families and society by gambling addicts. Studies reveal that crime increase by 7 per cent when gambling is legalised and a myriad of social problems follow. Gambling addicts presently spend hours in web shops spinning and their lives have become quite unproductive with numerous broken relationships. These people always lose. Another fact is that even when gambling is legalised, illegal gambling operations emerge on the black market. Addicts lose homes, families, contemplate suicide and eventually hit rock bottom. Gambling addiction is like any other addiction. There is hope for the addict.
Minister Obie Wilchcombe stated that plans are already in motion to move forward with regulation should the “VOTE YES” win. We are requesting now that Minister Bernard Nottage have a similar plan of action in place to shut down these criminal enterprises immediately should the “YES VOTE” win. “Citizens For Justice” is calling on all true pastors, Christians and Bahamians who truly care for the future of the Bahamas, to vote “NO” on referendum day. We must preserve our nation from those who are only concerned about themselves and not the interest of the Bahamian people. A few greedy pastors have been misleading those who are easily deceived and some politicians are supporting the wishes of special interest groups like the gambling bosses. We are asking people to not legalise the numbers rackets. The cost is simply too high.
BISHOP WALTER S HANCHELL
Citizens For Justice,
January 4, 2013.