By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN URGING Bahamians to vote “no” on the gambling referendum, FNM leader Hubert Minnis accused illegal gambling houses of funding the government’s election campaigns.
At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Dr Minnis said the public should vote “no” on January 28 because of the “flawed” and apparent “fixed” nature of the referendum, in addition to a “tremendous lack of information” from the government on the subject.
He said despite the government asserting that they had not taken a position on gambling, everything they have done suggests the “clear opposite.”
“At every step of the way the Christie government has conducted itself as if they were the principal lobbyists and agents for a select group of web shop owners, particularly the ones who financed their general election and by-election campaigns,” Dr Minnis said.
“This incestuous relationship between the government and the top numbers men is deeply troubling to the FNM and we said so every chance we got.”
The Killarney MP said the government made it “consistently” appear they were pushing the issue “for the express purpose of paying back their financial backers” with little consideration as to what’s in the best interests of the country.
The government also “made no attempt” to provide information to help voters understand “the full scope” of what a new gambling regime would entail and who would likely qualify to own and obtain web-shop licenses, Dr Minnis said.
Promised draft regulations, which would show how the licensing system would be implemented, have also not been made available, the party leader continued.
“Their strategy appears to be, keep the people in the dark about details, answer as few citizens’ questions as possible, ignore the official Opposition, and patronise the religious community and the Bahamas Christian Council,” Dr Minnis said.
“Given the tremendous lack of meaningful information, the government’s incompetence, and legitimate questions about a corrupted process, the FNM has concluded that it will recommend that the Bahamian people vote no on question number one.”
Dr Minnis also hit out at the wording of the question, claiming it “appears to be fixed” to enable the government to “do whatever it wants” in wake of a “yes” vote.
“How can any law-abiding government seek to obtain a mandate from the people merely to ‘regulate and tax’ an illegal enterprise,” he questioned, explaining the question should have first asked for a mandate to legalise gambling operations.
And while the FNM supports a wholly state-owned lottery, Dr Minnis continued, the government’s “absence of information” on the subject leaves “far too many unanswered questions.”
The government’s idea of a national lottery is one where a select group of web-shop operators are “given a free hand” to design a system that maximises their returns, Dr Minnis claimed.
“Through the ‘back door’ of a ‘yes’ vote for a national lottery, the government would be able to ‘fix-up’ their web-shop financial backers even in the event of a ‘no’ vote on the first web-shop question,” he said. “In plain language the FNM does not trust the PLP government to establish and regulate a national lottery with clean hands.
“Because the FNM and the Bahamian people have no clear understanding as to how the Christie government proposes to develop and implement a national lottery and because of our fears that this will be another sweetheart deal for the select few, we recommend to the Bahamian people that they vote ‘no’ on question number two.”
Dr Minnis claimed the process leading to the referendum has been “rushed” and more time is needed so Bahamians can make an “informed and educated” choice.