Confusion Over Partial Gambling Referendum
On December 3 we will have our second referendum as an independent country. The first was held in 2002 just before the general election that year. It was on extending full equality to women when it comes to passing on their citizenship to their children in certain circumstances. With the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) opposing it, it failed. That referendum was necessary because the gender discrimination in question is enshrined in our Constitution.
What we will be asked to vote on this time is not a constitutional matter. The government says it will ask if we want web shop gaming to be legal. This is the overall “concept” Prime Minister Perry Christie said would be the subject of the referendum when he made his communication to Parliament last week. He did not say what the specific question would be. What he did was make several statements that make this issue unclear.
Firstly, web shops run lotteries that use the numbers selected in the various lotteries in the United States. Many web shops also run online casinos. What becomes confusing is that Christie said the referendum will not ask questions about the legalization of casino gambling for Bahamians. He also said that lotteries will remain illegal after the referendum but for the traditional exemptions given, for example, to church raffles. If these are his positions, then how exactly does the government propose to legalize web shop gambling? Web shops operate lotteries and casinos. If those two forms of gaming are to remain illegal after the referendum, then what exactly will the referendum be about?
What appears to be emerging here is confusion. The government has no question yet and the referendum is a month away. More importantly, there appears to be conceptual confusion as to what changes are to be made in the event that Bahamians vote to legalize some type of change to the local gambling laws.
The truth is that it is Parliament that will change these laws – not the people through a referendum. Therefore, the proposed new legislation and the referendum question should have been circulated to the people long in advance of the actual vote so Bahamians know what is being proposed.
Bahamians who are informed on these issues could then give the government feedback on what changes might be necessary. What adds to the confusion is that the government is not proposing the full equality question on gambling in The Bahamas. The great fear some have of regular Bahamians socializing in casinos with visitors seems to have taken the full gambling question off the table. Hence, the government is attempting a partial vote without proper consideration of the full range of issues at stake.
Bahamians are confused. And the last time we were confused at a referendum we voted against a law that would have ended types of discrimination against women. When the process is confused people tend to lean toward leaving the status quo as is. The government must publish the gambling question it proposes as soon as possible. But before it does so it must make sure it is logical.
It will be very difficult for the government to legalize web shops without legalizing lotteries and gambling in general for Bahamians. Some additional consideration is needed on this issue.
The Nassau Guardian
Published Monday, November 5, 2012