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Is The Gambling Referendum Worth The Time?

The upcoming referendum is really yucking up my vexation. I join the chorus of Bahamians encouraging the government to put a proper referendum forward; one that is worth suffering the inconvenience of going out to vote. There is no shame in doing the right thing.

My concerns, however, do not echo some of the popular discourse. I for one believe some of the complaints represent plain ole “bad mind”: grudgfulness and hypocrisy. And I have no intention of perpetuating that.

If the government is going to put a question to the Bahamian people by way of a referendum, it has a responsibility to educate the Bahamian people about the question and the premises upon which it is based. It is completely inadequate for the government to say it is staying out of the fray. Gambling in the Bahamas is a complex issue and an uninformed public serves no one.

My first point explores the issue of web shops. There is a major point that seems to be eluding the government and many observers; Web shops in the Bahamas are licensed businesses. They are not illegal operations, even though they function within grey confines of the law.

Bahamians tend to make generalised statements about gambling being illegal. However, there is a big difference between something that is illegal (meaning, something that contravenes the regulations set out in a particular statue) and something that is simply unregulated. In reality, much of what web shops now do is not illegal: They are simply not regulated.

Those distinctions may seem meaningless as Bahamians discuss the matter over the airwaves. However, they are very real in the face of the law. The legal experts employed by web shops are well aware of this, and they use it to their advantage. Let us not forget, the attorney for one of the web shops was a former member of parliament.

These businesses are not fly by night operations. They are run by astute businessmen with sharp attorneys. To date I am not aware of any successful legal challenge which resulted in a web shop license being revoked or a web shop being closed. To the contrary, web shops continue to grow and expand.

I am no legal expert, but it is obvious that loopholes in the law have enabled web shops. The real crime is not the business acumen and legal prowess of gambling bosses, it is the shortsightedness and perhaps ineptness of subsequent governments in failing to get ahead of the industry, which is surprising considering the House of Assembly is riddled with lawyers.

On this point there has been zero accountability, and it has left the Bahamian public confused and uninformed about the issues. The Free National Movement (FNM) is grasping at straws to criticize the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) led government, but neither party has clean hands.

Government regulations have simply not kept pace with the evolution of the numbers business. The failures have created grey areas in the law that makes it near impossible to regulate the industry or prosecute its players. This is particularly true as it relates to the wire transmission of wagering information (online gambling).

Bahamians are still applying an old school way of thinking about numbers to an industry that has made quantum shifts. Long gone are the dice and paper days when underground gaming houses actually pulled numbers. The business model has changed.

By Noelle Nicholls
Tribune Feature Editor

For the entire article, click here.

Posted in Opinions

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