FRONT PORCH: A national lottery can help Bahamians in countless ways

IN our 50th year of independence, the national debt remains a source of deep concern, with state resources stretched across our archipelago. The country remains at risk of downgrade from various rating agencies. The debt will worsen with the next major hurricane, pandemic and/or financial crisis.

Correspondingly, our social needs in areas such as education, health care and youth development are extensive amidst the social decay we continue to experience. There is an enormous pool of resources mostly untapped to help in our social development, including funds for the arts, sports and programmes for at-risk youth.

Sadly, the political directorate, some enthralled to the owners of gaming houses, have refused to consider a national lottery or considerably higher taxes on such businesses as a means of increasing the resources necessary to address national development, climate change and debt servicing.

Unlike other economic enterprises, those who run the gaming houses produce nothing of economic value in terms of the gaming business itself. A well regulated national lottery or higher taxation of gaming interests could return more for the benefit of the mass of Bahamians.

There are many models that can be utilised in The Bahamas. In the UK, its National Lottery is a state-franchise operated by a private group. From March 2021 to March 2022 alone, it raised £1.84 billion or approximately $2.2 billion for good causes. It was a new yearly record. Over the years, tens of billions have been raised.

The UK lottery distributes funds through grants. Its funding mix is as such: “25 percent of lottery revenue goes towards the fund, along with all unclaimed prizes; 12 percent goes to the state. The prize fund is about 53 percent of revenue, with the remaining 10 percent going toward running costs and profits for the lottery organisers and ticket sellers.”

This is an equitable mix that serves the public, with the state and business interests sharing profits. Our domestic gaming model is woefully inequitable, lopsided, serving very narrow interests, aided and abetted by various politicians who benefit from the current arrangement.

Domestic gaming constitutes a vast redistribution of wealth, mostly from lower income Bahamians, to a few gaming business owners, who are further enriching themselves, and who are giving very little back to the country relative to their enormous gains.

This is an offence to social justice and national progress. Over the decades we are witnessing the considerable ethical and opportunity costs of allowing a few to live lavishly while thousands more Bahamians could benefit.

Instead of a national or public lottery benefitting significantly more Bahamians, the Perry Christie government regularised/legalised a privately-owned lottery system in which the majority of the profits accrue to already wealthy individuals, with the government receiving some funds from taxing the private lottery.

Today, money continues to pour out of poorer neighbourhoods and many Family Island communities into the bank accounts of a relative few, with next to nothing returning to these communities, often leaving them even more impoverished.

These communities do not primarily need Christmas parties and giveaways. They need concentrated economic and social investments partly derived from a national lottery in which money is sustainably reinvested in these communities.

The idea of allowing Bahamians a few shares in the lottery business was meant to sweeten the pot and drum up support for the “Yes” Vote in the gaming referendum/opinion poll of some years ago, the results of which were ignored by Prime Minister Perry Christie.

The idea of a public offering was done for very specific strategic reasons, including public relations. Instead of a few shares, a few tokens to the masses, the Bahamian people should be the majority shareholders and owners of a legalised lottery system, a sort of modern asue that can be used to advance human development.

Life is often a natural and social lottery. The lotteries of life involve chance, luck and happenstance.

In the natural lottery our genetic make-up is critical. Unfortunately, some are born with a greater predisposition of developing breast or ovarian cancer or other diseases. Kai Jones is certainly a hardworking athlete. But his genes make a difference.

The genetic lottery can mean all the difference as to whether one typically enjoys a sunny disposition or suffers from chronic depression. From general health to the distribution of talents, the natural lottery is highly influential though not necessarily fully determinative.

The social lottery involves the circumstances of birth from income levels to the ethnic and cultural heritage into which one is born.

Being born into a higher income family does make one naturally more intellectually gifted than being born into a lower income family. Yet, circumstance quite often determines economic prospects and educational attainment.

Political and economic debates have raged for centuries over the state’s role in balancing or negating the effects of the natural and social lotteries of life.

For progressives, government plays a critical role in addressing the inequality involved in life’s lotteries, especially on matters such as ensuring access to education, health care and a variety of social goods.

Public action can go a long way in terms of equality of access if not equality of outcome. Which raises the question of gaming lotteries. A lottery is unlike other businesses. It is based exclusively on chance and luck.

A national lottery can go a long way in addressing the natural or social lottery which may disadvantage various segments of a society. Today, many less advantaged Bahamians are being adversely affected because of an addiction to gambling.

Walk into a grocery store, spend $80 and you come out with a certain amount of groceries, especially as food prices continue to rise seemingly on a weekly basis. Walk into a web shop or play $80 online and you come away with a “hope” which is more often than not dashed.

You usually come away with nothing or next to nothing, rarely winning that pot of gold at the end of an ever elusive payout at the end of an imaginary rainbow.

In playing games of chance most people lose substantially more than they gain. Lotteries often prey on fear and hope, superstition and randomness. It involves the ultimate irrational exuberance. Still, a national lottery might help transform certain human traits into certain common goods and gain.

A public or national lottery is typically designed to expand opportunity and equality for citizens. They ensure a greater common good than do privately-owned lotteries which overwhelmingly concern the narrow interests of a few, with little by way of return to the mass of citizens.

Because of the nature of lotteries, in most civilized societies they are largely government-owned and for a reason. These societies utilize lotteries to help rebalance the lotteries of life which leave fellow citizens in need of help from the state.

Throughout the US, the UK and many other countries lottery profits are used overwhelmingly to fund public goods such as education rather than to primarily enrich already bulging private coffers.

While a national lottery is not a panacea in terms of public revenue, it can provide significant revenue, without the need to increase certain taxes, which may more adversely affect the poor.

In the years ahead, we should rise to the challenge to create and introduce a national lottery that is well-run, accountable and a significant source of revenue that is returned to the Bahamian people. In the interim, we should consider higher taxes on gaming houses.


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