|PM wants gambling referendum by year’s end|
Guardian Senior Reporter
Published: Jun 28, 2012
Prime Minister Perry Christie said yesterday he hopes to bring a referendum on gambling to the Bahamian people by the end of the year.
Christie said it is time to remove the glaring contradiction surrounding gambling from the society, namely that while it is illegal for Bahamians to gamble, known web shops operate in the open, paying utility bills, salaries and making other contributions to society.
When asked if the referendum will be brought by the end of the year, he said, “I will wish it to be so, before the end of the year.”
“We cannot have the system of government in The Bahamas where people are paying national insurance, making other institutional payments and then otherwise pretending that this activity isn’t lawful,” he said on the sidelines of the Ministry of Finance’s 2012/2013 Fiscal Position Symposium at the Sheraton Resort.
“That can not go any further.”
Christie said the former administration laid the groundwork for legalizing gambling and even had draft legislation ready for the change.
He added that the Ministry of Finance, under the Ingraham administration, had consultations with representatives from web shops to determine the feasibility and potential revenue to be gained from regulating the sector.
“We are reviewing all of that with a view [to] providing the Bahamian public initially the framework that we will pursue and then how the referendum questions will look,” Christie said.
When pressed on a more specific timeframe, he said, “I have no date in mind; it’s just a question [of] when we the government is ready.”
Christie said he expects a public debate on the issue before a referendum is held.
“One of the great arguments the church puts forward is the impact [on families],” he said.
“But our people are free today to do whatever they please to do. The reality is they are doing it.
“All that I have said, which reflects what the two major parties have said, is that if elected we would put the question to the people of The Bahamas and let the people decide.”
Christie said if the referendum reveals that Bahamians do not want legalized gambling the government would enforce the law against those with illegal gambling operations.
“If Bahamians make a decision on what they want, if they say they want it, they have it,” he said.
“If they say they don’t want it by the majority vote then it won’t happen and that means that it will remain against the law and it will be rigidly enforced.”
The Christian Council has said that it opposes gambling in any form and will do all it can to make its position known.
Prominent pastor Bishop Neil Ellis of Mount Tabor Full Gospel Baptist Church last month urged Christians to “stand firmly” against the planned referendum so that “there would not be blood on our hands” if it is passed.
Last month, Island Luck CEO Sebas Bastian told Guardian Business that his web shop has 3,000 employees.
He said he pays out millions of dollars in salaries, rentals and to the National Insurance Board (NIB) for contributions, adding an estimated $20 million to the local economy.