Prime Minister Perry Christie said his government has made no decision on whether to amend the Lotteries and Gaming Act to allow Bahamians to gamble in casinos.
Christie said members of his government will be polled on the issue before a determination is made, but he noted it is not now on the legislative agenda.
He said while he has a personal opinion on the matter, he will not reveal it.
“What is happening now, everything is so political now, and so the personal opinion of the prime minister is important, but it’s going to be the collective decision of the government that’s the order of the day,” Christie told reporters.
“I do not know as a fact the position of all of the members when polled as to what a consensus would be, so that’s a matter that we would have to decide on as a part of the process moving forward.”
Christie had previously said the issue would be reviewed by the Constitutional Commission.
But Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney said last week that the matter is not a constitutional issue. McWeeney pointed out that a simple amendment to the Lotteries and Gaming Act could address the issue if the government wanted.
Christie said yesterday, “The law as it is now, as it has been interpreted for me, enables Bahamians who live abroad, who do not have the residency qualifications — that is they are unable to vote because they’ve been living abroad for some time but they’re still Bahamians — they can come into the casinos today and gamble lawfully.
“So there is a contradiction that you can go into the casino and see my daughter or someone like that, for example, gambling lawfully because the law only requires… being ordinarily resident in The Bahamas.”
Christie also noted yesterday that casino operators are pushing for the passage of legislation to make the jurisdiction more competitive.
“The government has to give consideration to that as a part of the overall package,” he said.
“It’s in the process of doing so now because we know that the casinos are anxious to have some movement on Parliament addressing the changes that are necessary to make us more competitive as a gaming jurisdiction.”
Following McWeeney’s statements last week, The Nassau Guardian asked Atlantis chief George Markantonis whether the hotel would welcome Bahamians gambling in its casino.
“Atlantis would welcome more gamers into its casino, but at the same time, we go with the will and the laws of the country,” Markantonis said.
“Right now, the law is against anyone who lives in the country gaming. Should that change we’d be very happy, but if it didn’t change, we’d fully accept that too.”
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe, who has responsibility for gaming, has said Cabinet is reviewing a draft Gaming Bill that created uproar several weeks ago.
That draft proposed that permanent residents and work permit holders be allowed to gamble in casinos, but would have extended the prohibition against Bahamians gaming.
Christie previously said that if the commission had recommended the issue be put to referendum, the government would have put the question to the people.
He suggested the government will not be in a position to address the issue until after the House of Assembly breaks for the summer.
As it relates generally to the recommendations of the commission, Christie said yesterday the government will approach the opposition “with a view to determining whether or not there can be unanimity on any of the subject matters”.
“We know, for example, that both parties, that is the FNM and PLP, both parties in Parliament, have expressed support for gender equality and the elimination of sex discrimination, and so in that area where probably we’ll find unanimity, I’ve indicated an intention to have a referendum by the end of the year, so some time in November,” the prime minister said.
By: Candia Dames
Guardian News Editor