|Most MPs quiet on gambling position|
Krystel Rolle and Taneka Thompson
Guardian Staff Reporter / Guardian Senior Reporter
firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Published: Aug 20, 2012
Ten of the 38 members of Parliament have revealed they intend to vote ‘yes’ to legalized gambling in the upcoming referendum; three said they will vote ‘no’ and 24 said they were undecided or declined to state their positions publicly.
Retiring North Abaco MP Hubert Ingraham has previously stated that he would not waste his time voting in such a referendum, which he thinks should include a question on legalizing casino gambling for Bahamians.
Ingraham’s retirement from the House will take effect before the referendum is called.
In the House of Assembly last week, Prime Minister Perry Christie said the government would not take a position on the referendum.
“If I may be permitted to borrow an expression that is well known to the gaming industry, we do not have a horse in this race,” Christie said.
A week earlier, he told The Nassau Guardian, "The whole idea of this is for us not to use our own political clout or political support to influence the decision on this.
“I hope MPs aren’t giving their personal opinions."
The Nassau Guardian spoke to all 38 MPs over the last several weeks about their positions on gambling, and how they intend to vote in the referendum.
Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell made it clear how he would vote when he told The Nassau Guardian: "I support gambling without restrictions for all Bahamians."
North Andros MP Dr. Perry Gomez said he would “definitely” vote in favor of legalizing gambling.
“I support the regularization or legalization of the web cafes because it’s a custom that’s been here from time immemorial,” Gomez said.
“Whether we like it or not, Bahamians are using it and it’s now a sophisticated situation where you don’t even have to go in the shops.
“They do it from their homes and I think the best thing is to regularize it and legalize it. No question about it.”
Mount Moriah MP Arnold Forbes spoke of a double standard that exists in gambling laws.
"I believe that everyone has a choice,” Forbes said. “I will vote yes because I believe we are adults. We allow individuals to come into our country and wager and bet and do whatever else.
“Bahamians should be given the same privilege. I do not bet or wager, but I believe it is an individual's choice as to whether they want to play a lottery or bet or wager.
“Further, it's hypocritical when all around us there are numbers houses and 45 minutes away there is the United States where you can go in any casino."
Killarney MP Dr. Hubert Minnis indicated that he would vote in favor of legalization of the numbers industry.
“I have nothing against individuals gambling in terms of lottery, buying numbers etc.,” Minnis said.
“I just feel that it should be done in the proper, legalized manner. How it’s done today is of no benefit to the Bahamian people. Individuals may benefit temporarily, but in the long run they lose.
“It must be regularized, it must be done in such a way that the country, be it the educational system, the health system, whatever, there must be benefit for the people."
Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin said while she is not a gambler she sees the potential revenue legal gambling could bring the country.
She added that she will likely vote yes in the referendum.
"My personal view is I’m not inclined to seek to make that kind of activity habitual for myself, but it’s an amenity that many people worldwide engage in as a form of entertainment,” Hanna-Martin said.
“ . . .The revenue potential for The Bahamas is significant. As it is right now these houses are operating and they are not contributing in the way in which they could be in terms of the national good.
“I probably will vote for it because I think by and large it’s not a harmful activity even though it can be for some individuals."
Central and South Eleuthera MP Damian Gomez said while he is not a gambler he does not have a right to be a moral arbitrator for others.
"In all likelihood I’m going to vote in the referendum for the national lottery to be established so that the government has additional funding for education and sports and health issues," he said.
Central and South Abaco MP Edison Key said he will also vote ‘yes’ so that the public purse can finally benefit from the proceeds.
“I don’t have a problem with it because it has been ongoing for all my life, [the] numbers racket and so on, so if it’s legalized and the government can make some revenue from it, put it into education, development projects – I have no problem. I would vote yes in the referendum.”
Carmichael MP Dr. Daniel Johnson said he supports a push to regularize the illegal numbers houses.
"I think it’s people’s personal preferences. For me, I don’t gamble, but that’s my personal preference.
“But I think people who want to, I leave that up to them.”
Asked how he would vote, he said, "I don’t have a problem with gaming. I think it needs to be regularized."
Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins also said he would support legalizing gambling for Bahamians.
“I do believe that Bahamians should be able to gamble in this country if that is the way they wish to spend their money,” he said.
“However, I believe it is wrong for any expansion of the gaming license to take place without making Bahamians fully aware of the dangers of gambling.”
Marco City MP Gregory Moss said he is in favor of legalizing all forms of gambling for Bahamians, including casino access — a question that will not be addressed on the referendum.
“I would support the idea of legalizing gaming, or removing the discrimination against Bahamians in the gaming industry which already exists,” Moss said.
“I think legalizing the numbers industry is insufficient and discriminatory, but legalizing gaming as a whole is non-discriminatory, but safeguards have to be put in place to ensure that the social implications are dealt with.”
MICAL MP V. Alfred Gray said he does not support gambling for religious reasons. However, he added that he doesn't have the right to decide for everyone.
“The Bahamian people will each have an opportunity to decide and whatever the majority says that’s what the government will follow.
“But this is an individual choice. It’s a conscious choice. Since it’s a matter of conscience, I would not want to speak for anyone else but me.
“I personally will not gamble. I’ve never gambled. I don’t intend to gamble. But I don’t have a right to decide what people do."
South Andros MP Picewell Forbes said simply: "I oppose gambling. There’s no two ways about that. I’m a Church of God man."
Exuma and Ragged Island MP Anthony Moss said while he planned to meet with his constituents to get their opinion on the issue he will oppose legalization of gambling.
“Morally I am against gambling,” Moss said. “I am one who doesn’t gamble, but I would really wish to hear the views of my constituents on the referendum.
“I was considering not voting, but more than likely I will vote no.”
Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner said she is personally against gambling, but might vote based on what her party and constituents decide is best. She added that she has seen the social effects of gambling first hand in her constituency.
“I have been on public record as pretty much stating that I am against it,” Butler-Turner said.
“So personally, I will respect the views of the majority of people, but from a personal standpoint if I did not have to represent other individuals, my position personally would be to not support it.”
Cat Island, Rum Cay and Sal Salvador MP Philip Brave Davis seemed to support legalizing gambling for Bahamians, but would not say how he would vote.
“My personal position on the question of gambling for Bahamians, it depends what kind of gambling you’re talking about,” Davis said.
“What I am for, I am for removing the hypocrisy that exists in our society where we observe the gaming laws more in its breach than in its observance.
“That hypocrisy has to be removed; we either are going to legalize it or enforce the law. I’m going to vote the right way — secret ballot.”
Southern Shores MP Kenred Dorsett said he does not gamble for religious reasons.
“It is a matter that we ought to put to the people for us as a democracy to make a decision,” Dorsett said.
“Those of us who have a particular point of view, be it for religious reasons or otherwise, I think we should hold true to those beliefs, and so for me it’s as simple as that.
“Whatever is decided, those who have a religious standpoint have a right to abstain. It’s a healthy process for our democracy."
Asked if he intends to vote against the legalization of gambling, he said, "I’m not saying I’m going to vote no. I don’t have a vested interest in the process. I don’t gamble.”
Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald said he is undecided.
“Although I have strong Christian values, I don’t see anything in the Bible that says you can’t gamble, but I understand there are some strong beliefs on it both ways,” Fitzgerald said.
“At the end of the day, I haven’t made up my mind first of all on whether or not I’m even going to get involved as far as going to vote for it in a referendum, and secondly, whether or not I’ve made up my mind which way I’m going to vote.”
Elizabeth MP Ryan Pinder appeared to support gambling, but would not be pinned down on how he plans to vote.
“I believe Bahamians should have an opportunity to do a wide range of things,” Pinder said.
“Bahamians are gambling now right, and we have to bring some structure to the industry so every individual in The Bahamas has to take the position that one, do you regularize what is going on now or do you have to make other tough decisions.
“My vote is one vote. I will be doing listening tours with my constituents to see what their interests are and when the language of the referendum gets released.
“It’s very hard to say what you’re going to do one way or the other without actually seeing what you’re voting on.”
Golden Gates MP Shane Gibson said while he has a position of the issue, now is not the right time to reveal it.
"I’m going to have an opportunity to vote on the referendum," Gibson said.
"My position is to look at the situation and to determine what is in the best interest of my constituents.
“As a senior member of the Cabinet, as soon as it is proper for us to make all of the right disclosures, then I will do it. Obviously we have a position and my position will be made known prior to the referendum, but at this particular time I want to hear from the people."
Sea Breeze MP Hope Strachan offered a similar view.
"I have my personal views on it, but I believe that it should really be left to The Bahamas to make a determination," Strachan said.
“That's why we are putting it to a referendum. I believe at the end of the day [they are the ones] who should decide. I told my constituents that they should vote based on their conscience."
South Beach MP Cleola Hamilton said she will ultimately support the PLP’s decision on the referendum.
"My personal view, I would prefer to just leave that out until the people of this country make a decision," Hamilton said.
Pinewood MP Khaalis Rolle refused to state his position.
Rolle told The Guardian to research comments he made as president of the Chamber of Commerce several years ago when he reportedly indicated support of legalizing numbers houses.
Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells also declined to say how he would vote but added that he had a pretty good idea where he would mark his ‘X’.
“No small group of people like 38 individuals in a Parliament or one individual should be able to make that for an entire nation because whatever decision is made going forward everyone is going to be affected by it," he said.
Pineridge MP Dr. Michael Darville said he had to speak to his constituents first.
“I have my own opinion,” Darville said. “I reserve the right to hold that until I speak to my constituents.
“I am a religious man, but at the same time you will see that even in gambling there are certain elements of the church who may say yes and some who may say no.
“The reality is as a representative of a group of people it’s important that I get their opinion before I make a public statement as it relates to what we are about to do in Parliament.”
East Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest said he was also undecided, but has worries about the social ills gambling can create.
“I don’t know how I am going to vote at this particular point,” Turnquest said.
“I am going to go through the process of consulting with my constituents and based upon the advice and their position, that is the position I will represent in the House of Assembly.
“It’s unfortunate that we have allowed a system to exist that is said to be against the law for many years.
“Obviously, we have to either regularize or enforce the law. At this stage I do not support any breaking of the law, no matter how small. The law is the law and it ought to be respected.”
Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn said he has no problem with gambling, but could not say how he would vote until he sees the referendum questions.
“I don’t [have personal objections to it] although I do realize the harm that it does cause to a lot of people who unfortunately don’t have the will power or whatever to keep away from gambling,” Lightbourn said.
“I personally don’t gamble other than a little lotto ticket here and there, so it’s not going to affect me. Unfortunately, it seems those less able to are the ones that seem to have the addiction and it does seem strange that as a country we have to legislate people on a moral issue.”
Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant said the referendum should include questions on all forms of gambling.
Grant added that he had to speak with his constituents before he could say how he would vote, but said he has no moral or religious objections to gambling.
“If we’re going to legalize, it should be in its entirety,” he said. “It shouldn’t be cherry-picked and from what I hear we seek to legalize the web shops or the number houses.
“I think the referendum needs to go further and let Bahamians make a decision as to whether they wish to gamble in the casinos like everybody else.
“When the referendum comes about I’ll have a town meeting with my constituents and be guided in principle by what they have to say.”
When asked how he plans to vote, Nassau Village MP Dion Smith said, “I haven’t decided.”
North Eleuthera MP Theo Neilly also said he was unsure how he would vote. He said he planned to speak to his constituents about it.
West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP Obie Wilchcombe would not say how he would vote in the referendum, but referred The Nassau Guardian to comments he made in support of legalized gambling while a member of the opposition.
Golden Isles MP Michael Halkitis said that as a member of Cabinet he could not state his personal stance on gambling.
“I’m at the ministry that’s leading the referendum so I really want to keep my mouth shut,” said Halkitis, minister of state for finance.
“Our stance is we wouldn’t say anything that’s pro or con. The position of the government is that we are not taking any position for or against it.”
St. Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman said he did not want his personal opinions known.
“I don’t want to comment on it at this time. I will comment on it when I have to, but I don’t want my personal views to be quoted at this time,” Chipman said.
Garden Hills MP Dr. Kendal Major said that as Speaker of the House he has to remain impartial on the matter.
“I have strong views, but I’m not going to divulge them publicly because of my role as the Speaker,” Major said.
Bains Town and Grants Town MP Dr. Bernard Nottage, Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller and Yamacraw MP Melanie Griffin said they did not want to comment at all on the issue.
Prime Minister Christie reiterated in the House of Assembly last week that voters will be asked whether they support legalizing numbers houses and or establishing a national lottery.
The government has not yet provided any details on how a regularized industry would work, but Christie promised a widespread public education campaign ahead of the vote.
The government plans to call the referendum before the end of the year.