IF ALL of the web shop licences applied for are granted by the Gaming Board, the Bahamas that the late Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling did not want to be known as a gambling resort, won’t be able to escape the label. In fact, the web shops will have pushed all of our traditional businesses into the background.
As for Sir Lynden’s pledge that his party would never allow any form of gambling in the Family Islands, if the Family Island applications now before government are approved no island will be left behind — even Mayaguana, our farthest island to the south, will be gambling with the big boys. It took 47 years from Sir Lynden’s pledge to protect the Family Islands from this “social disease”, to one stroke of the political pen last year for gambling to capture the whole country. This, despite the fact that Bahamians in referendum in 2013 voted to close down the web shop business and end numbers betting in these islands. Up until then the “numbers racket” was illegal. That is why, despite government’s transforming the illegal into the legal, it has not been able to convince the Canadian banks to accept gaming deposits.
In fact, the way the situation is developing, a national lottery would have been the best route to have taken to solve the gambling problem. It certainly would have eliminated the rivalry between the nine contenders for control of the market. Although Craig Flowers has always been regarded as the lead man in the numbers game, it looks as though Sebas Bastian intends to be the top dog in this contest. He has applied for licences for 35 premises – 21 in New Providence, and the remainder in the Family Islands, including one for far away Mayaguana, not to mention the 47 gaming house agents licences for New Providence, and 18 more for the Family Islands.
Mr Flowers’ FML group of companies has applied for licences for 19 premises in New Providence and four in the Family Islands. He too wants licences for his agents.
When the applications of the seven other contenders are added Bahamians will be tripping over gaming houses.
Adding together the requests of all of the nine contenders — but not including the applications for their gaming house agents — we estimate that if they all get their wish there will be 134 gaming houses in New Providence and 122 distributed throughout the Family Islands.
This takes us back in time to November 28, 1973, when, after declaring in 1968 that the PLP government would close down all casinos in the Bahamas on the expiration of their Certificates of Exemption in 1976, then deputy prime minister Arthur Hanna did a complete volte-face. He suddenly announced that “as a matter of policy” the Bahamas government would assume complete ownership and control of the country’s three casinos.
Despite the passage of time, we can still hear the booming voice of the late Rev Dr H W Brown, of Bethel Baptist Church, who loudly accused the PLP politicians of “taking this country to hell”.
Apparently, government had also duped its backbenchers. Mr Hanna’s statement was made without consultation with PLP backbenchers or the casino operators. This brought an angry protest from the late Edmund Moxey, at the time Coconut Grove MP and parliamentary secretary for Community Development in the Ministry of Education. Mr Moxey threatened to resign from government. He said that a parliamentary meeting had been held just a few nights earlier, but not a word was mentioned about government’s policy decision on the casinos. He said for the past six years the Pindling government had been warned about making decisions without consulting its parliamentary members. The casino announcement was a decision, he said, that would affect the lives of the Bahamian people. Also, he warned, it would have a lot to do with the social customs of our society.
“If we hold our peace,” the respected Baptist minister thundered the next day, “we are as mad as the Deputy Prime Minister, and he must have been mad from the time he introduced a most unrealistic immigration policy and drove the investors away and destroyed our economy.”
Dr Brown said he had told Prime Minister Pindling in writing in July 1968 at the Grant’s Town Hotel that “the Deputy would destroy our chances, and he has done just that.”
He said that it was about time that people spoke out. “We cannot afford to fold our arms while Nero plays his fiddle and our civilisation is undermined,” he said. The Pindling government, he continued, had completely ignored the Bahamas Christian Council “whom he (Hanna) must think is a rubber stamp.”
What was really disturbing, said Dr Brown, was that “black people, the poor white people and a few of the rich white foreigners” who had put everything they had into bringing about a change for the better, was that the politicians continued to “prostitute” the country to the point where people were afraid to talk.
He wanted to know that if government were responsible for disciplining the casinos, now that the casinos would be in government hands, who would be responsible for disciplining the government.
“I have always been a part of the masses,” he said, and “when they are ready to ask the first popular government some questions I shall be pleased to help in any way that is right and honest.”
Dr Brown is not here to ask those questions, but we can only imagine what he would have to say on learning of the path down which we are now being led by Sir Lynden’s political successors.