A year has passed since the web shop referendum. The people voted against legalizing web shops and a national lottery. Since the vote there was much talk by police and the government about shutting down the illegal gaming sector. However, nothing has changed. Illegal gaming persists in the open.
The web shop industry has gone to court hoping that the court will say it has a right to be open. The case is pending and police and the government are hiding behind that court case as justification for not acting to close down illegal gaming operations.
During the web shop referendum debate it was estimated that $400 million per year flows through the sector, which is not regulated. It is wide open for money laundering.
Wendy Craigg, governor of the central bank, in a recent interview with this newspaper noted the dangers of having this much money pass through an unregulated sector. She said unregulated businesses involved in cash-intensive activities could be vulnerable to criminal exploitation.
The current status quo is dangerous for The Bahamas. Allowing this sector to grow unregulated could lead this country to eventually being sanctioned by the international community. Drug dealers and other malevolent actors could use the numbers sector to “wash” their money. We should not wait for sanctions to come before we make changes.
The illegal numbers sector needs to be shut down. If Parliament wishes to make gambling legal for Bahamians and residents a new local gaming sector needs to be created via law with only “fit and proper” people being given licenses to operate in that sector.
If Parliament wishes to keep gambling illegal for Bahamians and residents, an aggressive crackdown is needed to close the current illegal operations. The assets and proceeds of illegal gambling should be seized by the state via the law. If these laws need to be strengthened that should be done to assist law enforcement in doing what is necessary.
The Bahamas must move beyond being a rogue jurisdiction where anything goes. While our political class may think it is fine to allow open illegality when it comes to illegal gaming, our international partners will not turn a blind eye to this forever.
Allowing the illegal gaming sector to grow in The Bahamas is a danger to us all. We must act to fix this problem before we are painfully pressured to do so by outsiders.