Gambling Referendum Is Meaningless

Monday 12th, November 2012 / 08:41 Published by

The Government says it will licence web shop gambling (for only a few numbers men at the outset) if Bahamians vote ‘yes’ in its upcoming opinion poll on December 3. The Constitution of The Bahamas meantime says Bahamians, by an Act of Parliament, can be discriminated against in the right to gamble in all forms, not just in the casinos – all forms.

So, if the Government wants to legalise gambling in web shops by Bahamians, a constitutional referendum should be held by the Government to remove that discriminatory clause, so that there is no longer an equal rights issue at all in The Bahamas regarding Bahamians being able to gamble in any form, or own and/or operate a gaming house of any kind. Otherwise any law tabled to specifically legalise gambling by Bahamians in web shops will not be addressing that pivotal issue of a Bahamian’s equal gaming rights. A constitutional referendum, not an opinion poll, should be held.

And, since the Government says it is seeking to determine the true will of the people with respect to gambling in the Bahamas, questions via a constitutional referendum should also be put to the Bahamian people on whether they want that discriminatory clause enshrined in the Constitution, and on whether they want the Parliament to outlaw gambling for Bahamians. Instead – based on the Prime Minister’s Communication to Parliament – the Government is simply asking us what we think (our opinion) about just a few of the numerous numbers men in our country being able to get their licence right now  – hardly the kind of question a progressive Government should be asking its people in a 21st century Bahamas.

For the benefit of all readers, a constitutional referendum is a poll that is held to make a change to our Constitution. This is done first by the Government presenting its proposed Constitutional amendments to the Parliament where a 2/3-majority ‘yes’ vote must be obtained. Those proposed amendments then go to the Senate, which also must return at 2/3-majority ‘yes’ vote. Then the proposed amendments go to the people by way of a vote that is held under the same procedures as a general election, and once the majority of registered voters vote yes, the proposed changes to the Constitution can be carried out.

Most Bahamians do not know what is in their Constitution. If they did, they would know that the Constitution says Bahamians can be discriminated against in their own country as regards to gambling. If the Prime Minister’s administration wants to legalise gambling by Bahamians, it needs to amend the Constitution to address this issue once and for all. But the Prime Minister says his Government will not be doing that. Instead, they are holding an “opinion poll” that the Mr. Christie seems to think will be his ‘out’ of sorts in making certain numbers houses legal without public backlash. He seems to be seeking shelter in our possible ‘yes’ vote so that he can apparently feel absolved of any potential blame down the line by being able to say, “well, the people wanted this, I only did what the people voted for.” If possible fallout or negative outcomes from licensing a few numbers houses scares the Prime Minister that much, maybe we as the general public should be scared too!

This is what the Constitution says Bahamians can be restricted from by the Parliament in their own country in gaming: (Article 26, Section E) – “authorising the granting of licences or certificates permitting the conduct of a lottery, the keeping of a gaming house or the carrying on of gambling in any of its forms subject to conditions which impose upon persons who are citizens of the Bahamas disabilities or restrictions to which other persons are not made subject.”

So as you can see, the Constitution gives the Parliament the ability to block Bahamians, if it so desires, from lawfully holding or participating in a lottery, from getting a gaming licence, from owning and/or operating a gaming house and from gambling in any and all its forms. The Parliament has legislated most of these restrictions through the Lotteries and Gaming Act.

If the Government is truly interested in advancing all Bahamians  in the matter of gambling and not just a certain number of Bahamians, the referendum they promised should be held. Why tell me as a Bahamian – “vote for A, B or C but you still won’t be free”? That’s what will happen after December 3; I may get to buy some numbers in the places the Government chooses to licence if I wish to, but unless I am a foreigner, that’s about all I can do with respect to gaming in my own country without getting arrested for breaking the law!

What will be held December 3 is not a referendum on the Constitution.  This is one of the fundamental reasons I have in previous letters encouraged Bahamians to vote ‘no’ – because a ‘yes’ vote in an opinion poll will not enable the Government to amend the Constitution in any way, thereby enabling it to remove the portion of the Constitution that allows Bahamians to be discriminated against in their own country with respect to gaming.

Since the December 3 poll is seeking my opinion though, my ‘no’ vote in that poll will be my opinion, and my opinion is this – ‘no’ to the Government avoiding its ability to advance the rights of Bahamians through proposing amendments to the Constitution that would give Bahamians equal gaming rights with foreigners in their own country.

After the Prime Minister announced that he will, this week, make another announcement regarding the December 3 poll, speculation mushroomed about whether he may, notwithstanding his Communication to Parliament, decide to add at least one more question (lottery or casino gambling) to the ballot, in reaction to the high level of backlash he has encountered about the process of the upcoming vote.

Even if the Prime Minister, feeling the heat of that backlash from even his strongest supporters and possibly sensing a potential failure of the December 3 poll, decides at almost the last minute to go against his own Parliament Communication and his repeated statements to the nation and adds either a national lottery or casino gambling question to the ballot, it can logically be seen as pure politics at this stage. The Prime Minster has already told the Parliament and The Bahamas what he wants – no lottery, no casino gambling and “only a few” web shop gaming licences.

If within a short time of the poll his “considered decision” conveyed to the Parliament and the nation suddenly changes, he simply wants that December 3 vote to pass, and would be putting whatever he thinks he needs to put on that ballot to get it to pass. But would we ever see the national lottery the Prime Minister has already told the Parliament he does not want if that ballot question change does actually occur? Most probably not.

You must remember that the Prime Minister initially told the nation he was saying no to the lottery because of a UK Consultant report – a report he later told the nation did not actually exist. So that means there is another reason for his breaking his campaign’s and his administration’s promise about that lottery, and that reason for his not including the lottery question is still out there, not having gone anywhere. And that reason likely has every reason to believe and expect that a national lottery will never see the light of day in this term of office.

Either way, any rumored 11th hour change in opinion poll questions does not change the critical thing that should be of utmost and foremost importance to the Government that was elected on the mantra that it believes in Bahamians – discrimination against Bahamians on the issue of gaming. If you are going to feed Bahamians a meal, feed them the full course, not just a bone that you have already announced most of them will not get to chew on anyway, because your planned web shop regulations will shut out most of them from being in the business of enjoying that bone.

Only a constitutional referendum would enable the Government to finally deal with this matter of discrimination against a Bahamian’s gaming rights. If what the Prime Minister is doing is not just about a few web shop owners in The Bahamas, the discrimination issue is what should have been the focus from the very start.

So, if the Government decides it does not want Bahamians to have equal rights, then I as a full blooded, intelligent Bahamian will decide to be a hindrance in whatever form in law this upcoming opinion poll bounds the Government to honor, and vote ‘no’ – no to them breaking their promises to The Bahamian people, no to them misleading the Bahamian people on this process, no because they screwed up this process altogether instead of handling it like a mature, competent administration should, and most of all, no to their decision to maintain the ability of the Parliament to enact gaming laws that discriminate against Bahamians in their own country.

On December 3, we should all vote ‘no’ to ‘vote for A, B or C – but you still won’t be free.’

As for whatever hot water the Prime Minister could find himself in on the night of December 3 based on expectations certain web shop owners may have – I as a Bahamian could not care less.

That would then be his bed. He would have to lie in it.

Sharon Turner

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