It took a while to digest what was being put forth in the interview of Atlantis CEO, Mr. George Markantonis. He had a lot to say about what he expected from the Government of the Bahamas, but the context of his demands had more to do with the impact those demands would have on the Bahamian people. He uses the word reform very loosely but what he is talking about is a radical liberalization of the gambling laws in the Bahamas. The tone of the interview suggested that this was a decision the Government could make on its own, and there was a kind of immediacy that gave me the impression that the CEO was more concerned about ongoing profitability, but this is a matter that will be decided by the Government and the people of the Bahamas.
The interpretation of what was said, required a word study. Reform means one thing and liberalization means something else and we usually take our cues from theologians and religionists as we try to make sense of these words in every day life, but one rule is supreme, you have to find the context. I have not seen the report that the Minister of Tourism is presenting next month, but knowing what was discussed in the past and the boundaries of the current legislation, I can take a wild guess and speculate that those recommendations in that report will focus on the issue of Bahamians being able to gamble anywhere in the Bahamas.
Personally, I have a problem with gambling in the Bahamas, but the decision on the issue of liberalization should not be driven by the fact that Atlantis is fearful of the competition that will come from Jamaica. The bottom line is that anticipated losses of Atlantis will be made up for by the Government affecting legislation that will allow Bahamians to gamble over the bridge, and if this is what the deal is, it is no deal at all. We will be “paying” with some money that we cannot afford to spend. If the gambling laws are amended in this regard, then Atlantis will truly be the largest “employer” in the Bahamas.
As a precaution, the Government has to regulate what is going on with gambling, locally, if just to avoid the hypocritical backlash that is sure to follow if “liberalization” happens. It will be much easier to “reform” or “liberalize” since both sides of the gambling spectrum are regulated and then at that point the citizens of the nation decide. The sticking point being that the Bridge allows for two way traffic, since gambling over the hill is just as lucrative as gambling on Paradise Island or Cable Beach can be just as lucrative as gambling in Nassau.
Every time the Prime Minister has a chance to take a breather, it seem like something comes up, and this issue has referendum written all over it. Our laws on gambling may need change, adjustment or liberalization but it must not be done because someone is having a problem with their bottom line.