Bishop Delton Fernander, President of the Christian Council. Photo: Terrel W. Carey/Tribune Staff
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
BAHAMAS Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander said he was “shocked” that a second government minister has come out in support of the creation of a Bahamian national lottery, adding the council expected the Minnis administration to either tighten the existing legislation or repeal the law.
The council’s expectation of the government is based on the Free National Movement’s position back in 2013 while in opposition, against legal gaming in the country.
Bishop Fernander said the BCC is concerned the Minnis administration now wants to introduce another kind of gambling to the industry.
On Monday, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar told Tribune Business a national lottery is “front and centre”. The comments followed Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest’s comments in July that he believed the introduction of a national lottery in the Bahamas was worth a second look.
“We take great note that these were the people who stood with the church against gambling and as soon as they get in power no less than the deputy prime minister and the tourism minister have put forth that they have to go to gambling as if there is no other solution to the problems we are facing,” Bishop Fernander said in an interview with The Tribune yesterday.
He also said: “I am very shocked. Very, very shocked. It would appear that we were one way before election and another way after election, it does give me great concern.
“Because we would hope that we can take people at their word and if they stand with us that they are against gambling we expect that when they march in the halls of Parliament that we would hear these same voices echoing in Parliament.
“But what we really expected was for changes to be made. These were the people saying the former government should adhere to the voices of the people. We expected that they would get in there and tighten up the legislation or even repeal the legislation.”
Outside of these actions by the government, Bishop Fernander maintained the BCC would not support a national lottery.
Earlier in his interview with The Tribune he said: “We take note as a council that two prominent members of Parliament, the deputy prime minister and now the minister that’s over gaming would take overtones that they are inclined or testing the waters for national lottery or to increase the market.
“Out of his own remarks minister D’Aguilar would have said that there are those, as the Christian council said, who should have been mandated to be protected in the original legislation but were not and the funds have not been set aside to deal with those who have become addicted and some of the challenges we have.
“Out of his own remarks he would have stated a preponderance of money comes from the inner city and from those who are struggling to pay their bills and that money is being placed in these web shops and they are used as a virtual bank.
“It is strange this government early in their tenure would not adhere to the wishes of the people. The Christian council’s position remains the same. We are opposed to a national lottery or gambling period.
“If it is that this government too is taking a position and we’ve had a referendum where the people said no and seemingly they want to go ahead with it anyway, it is concerning.”
The tourism minister declined to divulge details to Tribune Business Monday, but he said he had “a few ideas” as to how a national lottery could be structured and developed in this nation.
“Bahamians are crying for that. That’s very much front and centre in my mind,” the Minister of Tourism responded, when asked whether a national lottery remained a possibility.
Last week in the House of Assembly Mr D’Aguilar said while gaming houses were being used as a means to move money, there is worry this unregulated activity may put the country on an international “black list,” affecting the stability of the country’s banking sector.
He added that as the limited number of gaming houses enjoy the “benefits of being a cartel,” the “cash strapped” government should increase tax revenue from this sector, suggesting the Minnis administration could be considering increased taxes for operators.
Bahamians overwhelmingly voted against legalising web shops in a referendum on January 28, 2013.
In 2014, 25 government MPs in the former Christie administration voted to pass amendments to the Gaming Act in the House of Assembly, making the sector legal.