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Minnis says ‘yes’ to casino gaming

FNM leader wants ‘fair play’ for Bahamians
  • Dr. Hubert Minnis.

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: May 02, 2013

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Any proposed gaming legislation presented to Parliament should ensure “fair play” for Bahamians, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday.

Minnis spoke to the draft Gaming Bill for the first time in an interview with The Nassau Guardian.

When asked whether that meant Bahamians should be allowed to gamble in casinos, Minnis said, “In terms of [whether] Bahamians should be in casinos, I feel yes, but that is my personal view.”

Speaking in the Minority Room of the House of Assembly, he also said, “Whatever is done you should ensure fair play to the Bahamian populous, and you should ensure that you truly believe in Bahamians.

“That is the most important thing.”

The bill in its current form would also allow work permit holders and permanent residents to gamble in casinos in The Bahamas.

Bahamians would be the only group of people prohibited from gambling.

This element has caused an outcry in some quarters.

The bill would also allow people outside The Bahamas to gamble on a website established, maintained and operated by the holder of a local gaming license.

But they must be in a country or jurisdiction that permits online gaming.

It would also allow mobile and online gaming at the properties of license holders.

While the casino question was not on the January 28 referendum ballot, Prime Minister Perry Christie has said it would be put to the people during a constitutional referendum promised for later this year if the Constitutional Commission recommends that the matter be addressed as part of overall constitutional reforms.

Minnis had urged Bahamians to vote no in the gambling referendum, criticizing the process.

As a final Gaming Bill has not yet been tabled in the House of Assembly, Minnis did not wish to comment on specifics of the draft, other than to stress that he supports equality for Bahamians.

The FNM leader said he obtained a copy of the bill this week from an “individual”.

“Nothing was sent to us; nothing was sent to the Opposition, so one has to wonder what version is this that is circulating, and what is the PLP up to,” Minnis said.

“They have made a series of blunders throughout their one year of governance and therefore you must understand that there can be some ulterior motive with this particular bill, and presumably more circulating.”

The bill has raised the general issue of equality for Bahamians.

More than 200 supporters of Citizens for Equal Opportunity displayed fresh outrage in Rawson Square over several issues yesterday, including the “discriminatory” provision in the drafted bill.

Minnis said those demonstrators marched against being marginalized in their own country as Bahamians.

“Bahamians should truly be first, and once there is opportunity Bahamians should be given opportunity to be employers, not necessary employees, so they are marching for their rights,” he said.

Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe, who has responsibility for gaming, told reporters outside the Churchill Building on Tuesday that there are several versions of the bill but would not specify what changes have been made.

He said Cabinet had not yet reached a consensus on the legislation.

“In the Cabinet you have many people who are opposed generally to gambling so you have a number of personalities in your Cabinet that take strong positions,” Wilchcombe said.

Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Bradley Roberts said on Tuesday that he agrees with critics who see the proposed law as discriminatory.

Former PLP parliamentarian George Smith, who headed the Hotel Corporation, said he was “baffled” by the proposed legislation and questioned the rationale behind it.

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