By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Christian community remains divided and hypocritical over the issue of gambling in the Bahamas, a leading Bishop said yesterday.
Restating his support for the regularisation of web shops, Bishop Simeon Hall, of New Covenant Baptist Church, called on the government to present clear and factual information to the public when it resumes discussions on web shops this year.
He said some pastors had changed their tone over web shops after reviewing the government’s proposal to introduce Value Added Tax.
Bishop Hall said: “I was one of those that supported the regularisation of web shops, that is still my position. As I told a group of pastors [yesterday], government needs money. We can’t call on the government to do this and that and it continues to operate at a deficit, money is tight all over the world.
“If government can find legitimate means to accrue money, we should support it. I believe that the web shops are inextricably tied into the Bahamian culture and we should seek to regularise them.”
He added: “We should have dialogue without demonising one another. One of the mistakes some pastors made in the ongoing debate last year was that they demonised all the people who said ‘yes’ to regularisation. I don’t understand that, I think the Christian Church should lead the way in an ongoing debate on national issues and that is what is absent now from the Christian community.”
Last week, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe revealed that the government has begun a series of meetings with religious leaders and those with interests in gaming in an effort to reintroduce the discussion of web shop gaming in 2014.
Mr Wilchcombe, Minister responsible for gaming, said he has already met with several church leaders who had agreed to help him in his dialogue with other influential religious leaders.
Mr Wilchcombe said web shop gaming is “not off the table” and is still up for discussion - despite Bahamians overwhelmingly voting against the regularisation and taxation of web shops.
Yesterday, Bishop Hall said: “I think the church has not been as straightforward with local web shops as it has with casinos in the country. It’s hypocritical not to say a word about Sol Kerzner but we can say something about Mr Bastian.
“One of the interesting things happening now in view of the VAT proposal, is some pastors who were against the regulation of web shops are now saying they would support the web shops if that would mean a lowering of the percentage of the VAT exercise.”
Bishop Hall said: “I support the idea of ongoing dialogue. I believe government should be straightforward and plain and not as dubious as it was with the referendum, where it was saying it didn’t have a horse in the race and clearly there was a horse. Government should be transparent, factual, and upfront and let’s move forward.
“I respect the wishes of the Bahamian people but there are a vast number of Bahamians who not only support the web shops but live by them, literally live by them.”
He added: “We need to stand by what we believe is right instead of vacillating. Some people are now changing their mind because of VAT but my position is government needs some money to run this country, to fight crime, and I know of no better entity to get money from than from the web shops.”