FNM CONDEMNS GAMING BILL AS UNFAIR AND NON-TRANSPARENT

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Statement at Press Conference Sunday...

Dr. Hubert Minnis - Leader of The Opposition

The tabling of the new Gaming Bill by the PLP government is a violation of every principle of trust, accountability, transparency and fairness owed by a government to the People.

Having taken the Nation through a meaningless public relations exercise and Opinion Poll called the Gaming Referendum, and having committed to respect the results of that failed Referendum, Perry Christie has shown that his word as the nation’s leader cannot be trusted. His word means nothing, especially when it comes to rewarding alleged campaign financial backers, and guarding their privileges.

The Gaming Bill itself is nothing short of a Charter for Law breakers, and the Select Few, in that it legalizes previously criminal acts, and provides a statutory advantage to existing Law breakers, as against law abiding persons who may wish to enter into a business venture which is now being legalized and “regularized”. The Bill removes the transparency which presently exists in the conduct of the business of the Gaming Board and its deliberations on the issues of who might or might not be granted a licence on its recommendation.

The Bill also institutionalizes unfairness as between different proposed categories of Licencees, in that Bahamian operators are precluded from marketing and providing services to the citizens of other countries, whose domestic laws do not prohibit online gambling, while foreign-owned Casino operators will enjoy this privilege.

The Bill also maintains an illogical distinction between Bahamian residents and foreigners in that Bahamians will not be permitted to have access to mobile gaming services, whether on or off hotel premises (where they may be guests), nor will Bahamian residents have access to hotel Casinos whenever they may be guests of the hotel.

Breach of Commitment in the failed Referendum

The Prime Minister has the gall to permit his government to table a Bill to legalize Web-shop gambling (in any of its forms) and to enable the creation of a National Lottery, without having the courtesy to apologize to the Bahamian for wasting millions of Dollars on an “Opinion Poll” and telling the Bahamian People that his government would respect the results of the Referendum. Having done so, the events following the Referendumonly showed the depths of the Prime Minister’s breach of trust and insincerity, as he publicly issued an ‘ultimatum’ to existing Web-shop operators, telling them to close forthwith, and seeing nothing at all done by a weak, hand-wringing and excuse-making Commissioner of Police – who has publicly given every lame and sorry excuse that he could think of NOT to enforce the existing gambling laws.

The Free National Movement remains firm in the posture that it took in advance of the Gambling Referendum that Web-shop gambling should not be legalized and regularized. We stand with the majority of Bahamians who voted NO. Our position is unchanged, as an Organization, despite the fact that any number of FNMs, as individuals, might have somewhat differing views.

In view of the egregious breach of trust now being committed by the PLP government, the Free National Movement now makes a solemn commitment to the Bahamian People that we will amend the Referendum law passed by the PLP to ensure that in the future the results of ANY non-constitutional or consultative Referendum MUST be binding on future governments. It is the settled view of the FNM that, as a matter of principle and a matter of good governance, whenever the government submits a question to the People in a Referendum it MUST be legally bound to accept the results.

Until we can amend the Law, the FNM, in opposition must actively engage the government, and deal with all proposed laws which that government chooses to table and attempt to pass through Parliament. In this spirit we have closely analyzed the Bills and have the following observations which we feel should be drawn to the attention of Bahamians!

A Charter for Law Breakers and the Select Few

The Bill does not allow Bahamians who have never before been involved in Web-shop gaming and the Numbers business to apply of their own volition for the grant of a License. The Bill provides that any applicant for what will be called a Gaming House Operators Licence must be “invited to apply” by the Gaming Board.

Obviously this provides a distinct competitive advantage to existing Law Breakers and the Select Few. This is so because the members of the Gaming Board would have no way of knowing which persons, who have not been previously involved in the illegal web-shop rackets, who might now wish to become involved in the business -unless they employ a Psychic to help in reading minds.

Further the Bill does not provide a statutory procedure by means of which a new, intended, Operator might make his intentions known to the Gaming Board, so as to receive the required “invitation” to apply for a licence.

The same Bill also provides the same built-in advantages to existing franchisees of the existing Web-shop operators by similarly limiting the right to apply for Gaming House Premises and Gaming House Agent licences to persons who have been “invited” to apply by the Gaming Board.

These restrictions upon the right to apply for various Licences operate to provide a competitive advantage to existing Law breakers, who are already in full illicit operation, and the Select Few, who might have other, non-transparent and non-statutory, methods of getting the Gaming Board to “invite” them to apply for a gaming Licence.

Non-Transparency

The Bill now proposes that meetings of the Gaming Board to consider licence applications should not be disclosed to the general public. This is contrary to the requirements of the existing Lotteries and Gaming Act which mandates that the place and time of meetings of the Board to consider gaming licence applications must be notified by the publication of a Notice to the public. This new Bill merely continues the requirement for the publication of each application. But only a registered Objector to the application will be notified of the meeting and given the opportunity to state his objection.

While the Bill states that all meetings of the Board are to be “open to the public”, the general public will not, in fact, be notified in advance of the place and time of any meeting and, if they fmd out where it is being held and attend, they may be put out of the meeting.

Obviously the government feels that the job of rewarding financial backers and the select few must take place in secret!
Like the manner in which we woke up one day to learn that the management of the Harold Road Dump Site had been turned over to a foreign company, Renew Bahamas, incorporated in the Law Firm of Davis & Co., so the government apparently intends for the Gaming Board to secretly allocate licences and to divide up the spoils of victory among existing law breakers and the select few, and for Bahamians to find out about it after the deal is done!

Institutionalized Unfairness between Licencees and against Bahamians

Casino Operators in hotel properties in The Bahamas will also be ableto apply for a “Restricted Interactive Gaming Licence” which will allow them market and provide Internet-based Casino gambling to customers who live abroad in countries whose laws do not prohibit online gambling. This will create a distinct competitive disadvantage against Bahamian Licencees, who will be limited to dealing “face to face” with domestic customers (Bahamian Residents).

Hence the government is introducing an entirely new form of institutionalized unfairness in the gambling industry.
The same illogical unfairness is shown in the continuing prohibition of Bahamian residents, who may be guests of the various hotels, from gambling in the Casinos or utilizing the Mobile Gaming services which will now be offered to other, non-resident, hotel guests. It is, indeed, illogical in the extreme for a government which has decided to opt for an “all out embrace” of the culture of gambling to continue to perpetuate what many consider to be an insidious form of institutionalized unfairness and, even, discrimination towards Bahamians. None of this would even arise had the government lived up to the Prime Minister’s commitment to respect the results of the Gambling Referendum. But that betrayal of trust now appears to be just so much “water under the Paradise Island Bridge” (the Sir Sidney Poitier Bridge).