|Ingraham: Include casino gambling in referendum|
Guardian Senior Reporter
Published: Jul 20, 2012
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said the government should include the question of casino gaming in its upcoming referendum, as Bahamians have the right to decide if they can gamble in casinos.
The North Abaco member of Parliament said The Bahamas is the only country he knows of that bars its citizens from playing in local casinos.
“If you’re going to put the question of gambling to the public of The Bahamas, then the whole question must be put,” Ingraham said yesterday at a press conference in the Majority Room of the House of Assembly. “We are singular in our decision in The Bahamas that excludes its citizens from being able to gamble in our casinos. Nobody else in the world does that.”
He added that the law which banned Bahamians from casino gaming was made in 1965, at a time when it was also illegal for locals to work at casino tables. He said the government later saw fit to reverse that decision.
“In fact at the time of Independence in 1973 the then prime minister (Sir Lynden Pindling) said at a press conference that as long as he was prime minister there would never be a Bahamian croupier in the casinos in The Bahamas, because that was the established policy,” Ingraham said.
“They changed their mind over time. The public of The Bahamas ought to have a right to decide whether they want to gamble in the casinos or not.”
Prime Minister Perry Christie has said government plans to bring a referendum on the legalizing of gambling for Bahamians by December. Christie added, however, that a by-election in North Abaco – which has to be called within 60 days after Ingraham’s resignation – will take precedence over a vote on gambling.
The ballot will only have two options: Establishing a national lottery or legalizing numbers houses. Christie has said his government will not deal with reversing the law that prohibits Bahamians from gambling in local casinos.
Ingraham added that as it stands he would not waste his time voting in the government’s proposed referendum.
The North Abaco MP also urged the government to state its position on gambling and not hide behind the excuse that it is leaving the decision up to the public.
Ingraham also alleged that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) received financial support from illegal web shops during the 2012 general election campaign.
The North Abaco MP said he would do all he can to postpone the referendum, which is one of the reasons why he delayed his resignation from Parliament from July 19 until August 31. However, Ingraham did hand in his letter of resignation to Speaker of the House Kendal Major yesterday.
Ingraham also questioned why the government would spend money to hold a referendum so early in its term, when there are pressing social issues which need to be dealt with.
He also criticized the Christie administration for not educating the public about the referendum and the repercussions of the vote.
“When I last had a referendum the argument was the public was not educated. Well I don’t see anything happening about educating the public about the referendum,” Ingraham said, flanked by Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis and several FNM MPs and senators.
Dozens of energetic party supporters also crowded into the room and cheered several times during his statements.
“So I’d like to postpone it as much as I could so the public can be educated,” Ingraham added. “You can’t make a deal with the numbers fellas before the election, get their money and then call upon me to support you or to vote for it.”
When asked how he would vote in the referendum Ingraham said, “I wouldn’t waste my time on such a referendum.”
Both the PLP and the FNM promised to hold referendums on gambling if they won the May general election. In 2010, the Ingraham administration considered legalizing the gambling sector, but after pressure from the religious community, Ingraham decided that the FNM would put the question to a vote if re-elected in 2012.
Yesterday Ingraham said he would not have proposed a referendum on gambling that did not include a question on casino gaming.
“I would not have had a referendum that did not include the casino, that would be unthinkable.”
Yesterday’s press conference was held a few minutes after Ingraham handed in his resignation from Parliament to Speaker of the House Dr. Kendal Major. The resignation takes effect on August 31 but Ingraham had earlier said he would resign on July 19, on the anniversary of his first election to Parliament in 1977.
The former prime minister said he put off his resignation for three reasons: To delay the timing of the government’s proposed referendum on gambling, as well as to allow the FNM’s prospective North Abaco by-election candidate Greg Gomez time to meet the constitutional requirements to be eligible to be elected to the House.
Ingraham said he also delayed his resignation because the new leader of the FNM Dr. Hubert Minnis asked him to stay on longer.