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Wells and Chipman reject discrimination in Gaming Bill

  • Renward Wells. FILE

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: May 07, 2013

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Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells yesterday suggested that he would not support the proposed Gaming Bill if it is presented to Parliament in its current form.

Wells was one of two MPs who spoke out against the proposed bill in the House of Assembly.

As previously reported, the bill would allow everyone except Bahamians to gamble in casinos.

Wells and St. Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman are the latest politicians to join a growing list of people who have criticized the bill over the provision which is discriminatory against Bahamians.

"I hear all the noise in the marketplace about us giving the industry to foreigners and doing this and the next even though no bill has come here,” said Wells as he contributed to debate on a bill that would make January 10 a public holiday to commemorate majority rule.

“I don't know who would think that persons from this new generation of leaders, who spoke about economic empowerment… would stand up in this place and vote for a bill that disenfranchises Bahamians.

"But you know, Mr. Speaker, we came to our people and said we're going to give it (the right to gamble) to you. Some of our people said no and said so on moral grounds.

“It's high time we move beyond this schizophrenia in our nation. We ought not to be that way. We don't need to be of two minds; we need to stop the hypocrisy."

Wells said it can’t be right for foreigners to gamble in the country while it is wrong for Bahamians to gamble.

Wells noted that more people are coming out in support of gambling since details of the proposed bill have surfaced.

"So, Mr. Speaker, we had given our people a choice," he said, referring to the January 28 gaming referendum.

"We said we want to give it to you. [The people] said no. Now I hear the [fellows] telling me ‘give it to me again’.

"We ought to cross the [bridge] on this issue... It is high time the Bahamian people be empowered, not just to operate and have the opportunity to [play] but we ought to own the casinos. That's what economic empowerment is all about."

While the referendum asked voters if they supported the regulation and taxation of web shops and the establishment of a national lottery, it did not include a question on Bahamians being allowed to gamble in casinos.

On the gambling issue, Chipman said the nation’s forefathers would be "rolling over in their graves" if the government presents the proposed gaming bill as it is currently drafted.

"Is this what Sir Milo Butler (the first Bahamian governor general) fought for?" he asked.

Chipman said "it can't be right" for foreign employees living in The Bahamas to be able to gamble when he can't.

As previously reported, the bill would 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.

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

"I have not had sight of the bill but if it is true what we heard, then we have gone back to the dark ages," Chipman said.

He advised the government to be mindful in its deliberations before it brings the bill to Parliament.

“Every Bahamian must be equal. Equality for all, I support it 100 percent,” he said.

“If others are allowed to gamble in this country then Bahamians should.”

At least two groups of Bahamians are reportedly trying to get a casino license.

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