It is within a matter of weeks before the country takes a referendum on the regulation and the taxation of web shop gaming and on the establishment of a national lottery in the Bahamas. And even though it is clear that the majority of Bahamians have already made up their minds as to how they plan to vote, it is yet too early to conclude as to what the final outcome will be on either question.
Even though this referendum is clearly about taxes, there are only two positions with a possible third, regarding this national poll;
- There is the position of the number men, who for some reason desire to be taxed and regulated
- The position of the Christian Council who sees the implementation of legal number buying by matured citizens as a vice that should not be supported by the law.
- The third possible position is by the nationalists who believe the country will benefit most, by implementing only a national lottery, owned and operated by the government with no competition by privately owned enterprises what so ever.
Sadly, the Bahamian government has no horse in this race. They will hold no public forum educating the populace as to the objective or direction of this referendum; however they have relinquished their position to the Bahamian public, allowing them to choose, either or/or nothing, causing a precarious dilemma.
Whose Leading The Conversation
The conversation regarding the referendum was led by the ‘Vote Yes Bahamas” and the “Vote No Bahamas” campaigns, orchestrated by members of the web shop community and the Christian Council respectively.Both argued clear-cut positions and appealed to the general public’s social sensitivities.
The web shop owners pandered to the public’s sense of duty in keeping Bahamian jobs and perpetuating social and educational programs sponsored by their number businesses. They even mentioned 40 million dollars in potential taxes and revenue for the country.
Whereas, the Christian Council decried possible social deterioration, inclusive of crime and poverty that tend to accompany excessive gambling abuse.
The Government’s Role
The topic of legalizing gambling in the Bahamas has been a contentious subject for years; however, Bahamians in general appreciate the fact, that no longer should they be discriminated against in their country while others are able to part take in the gaming industry.
Both major political parties on the campaign trail promised a referendum on the subject. However, the PLP administration after much consultation by international gaming firms decided to only have a referendum on web shop gaming, ignoring the question of gambling as a whole, saving that issue for a possible later date.
Apparently the international consultants advised the government that a national lottery would not work in this jurisdiction, however due to public outcry, the PM decided to ignore the advice of the consultants and the question of national lottery was added to the referendum.
Nevertheless, due to the government not having a horse within its own race, no explanation as to how a national lottery will work, or compete against the number bosses’ web shops.
3 Main Positions on The Referendum
As we head to the polls on January 28th, 2013, a number of questions still loom regarding exactly what the public is voting on.
The opposition’s position of ‘if you don’t know vote no’ is resonating with many, who find themselves confused as to what they are actually voting on, subsequently are undecided.
Then there are the nationalists who will only vote positive to the lottery question; mostly due to the concerns about the possible formation of gaming monopoly for several Bahamian families, excluding the majority of Bahamians from being owners/ directly benefiting from the gaming industry.
The Christian Council remains steadfast with their traditional position regarding gambling; however the open split of opinions by senior members of the Council, has many questioning the future influence of that institution.
Web-shops Rival Churches
The “Vote Yes” campaign has mimicked their drive to that of a general election campaign, with rallies, billboards, t-shirts and promotional ads. The Christian Council has followed suit, subsequently plunging the nation yet again into another, seemingly extended election frenzy. Both campaigns are using “Bahamian star power;” having Bahamian socialites lead their campaigns regarding the referendum.
Due to the nation wide recession, the proliferation of number shop outlets can easily rival the number of jook-jook and established churches in the country. Almost every bar, convenience store, and confectionery has a web shop booth inside; some reportedly even have slot machines.
Web shops are alleged to conduct banking operations, with access to automated banking machines and the like. In some communities, there are up to six independently ran web shop businesses operating on the same street.
Web shop gaming has become the savior for many families. The winnings from these number houses are at times the only income for many single mothers who are able to make 90 dollars out of 10 cents. “Spinning” has become the country’s number one recreation; and the term is now a household word in many social sectors. And with jobs being scarce in the country, the web shops have picked up the slack, employing 3000 Bahamians throughout the Bahamas, not to mention causing an economic boom in the rental property industry.
In truth, the number man has become the new Jesus, the savior for many. It is he who gives them hope in facing another day.
What happens if there is a No vote?
The government has pledged that if there is a “NO vote” in the upcoming referendum, they will be forced to close down all the web shops throughout the Bahamas. A laughable feat to many, as it is a task which the government has proven to be inadequate in doing for over 40 years; even the Commissioner of Police suggested that his officers actively are involved in the web shop business.
The truth is, even though the government like Pontius Pilate has washed their hands of this gaming issue, apparently not caring if the referendum result is yay nor nay, their interest will be served best if it is a “YES vote”; for a “NO vote” would cause social and economic chaos, which this administration would be ultimately/squarely responsible for.