The Govt’s Bill To Amend The Constitutional Referendum Act Does Not Address The Public’s Demands On The Issue Of Legalised Gambling

Wednesday, the Government tabled a Bill that is a total waste of time in the context of dealing with what the Bahamian people are now demanding for on the issue of gambling – which is to deal with all matters related to gaming for Bahamians inclusive of the discriminatory clause in the Constitution that permits the Parliament to block the gaming rights of Bahamians.

Instead of simply going ahead, putting in the necessary research and work and then holding a full and proper referendum, the Government tabled a Bill to Amend the Constitutional Referendum Act to allow the Government of The Bahamas to have an opinion poll instead of a Constitutional referendum on matters if it so chooses. So in essence, the Government has done nothing new other than to announce a delay in the vote and say it will put a lottery on the ballot of next year’s opinion poll that it is still determined to hold instead of holding a full referendum.

- The Government still does not want to amend the Constitution to give Bahamians equal gaming rights.

- The Government still does not intend to first draft legislation for numbers houses and a lottery that we can look at, review and give input on before the January 28 vote. So therefore, it still will not be providing the critical information on potential gaming regulations that the Bahamian people are demanding, because that information has to come in the form of proposed legislation. No legislation equals no information. So the Government is not even attempting to meet the public’s biggest demand – the actual information on how the legalising of numbers houses and a national lottery will be implemented and regulated.

- The Government still did not present a Bill to amend the Lotteries and Gaming Act to make all gaming for Bahamians that is now illegal, legal (which it already currently has the full constitutional and legal right to do without a public poll needing to be held at all). Therefore there will be no House and Senate debate on the actual implementation of a lottery or the legalising of numbers houses, because the Amendment Bill Parliament will be debating has nothing at all to do with gaming – the Bill presented is exclusively about the types of polls the Bahamas Government can hold at any time – it is only to give the Government the ability to hold an opinion poll instead of a constitutional referendum on any issue if it so desires. This Amendment Bill is not a gambling bill and by itself, is not legislatively connected at all to the separate issue of legalising certain forms of gaming for Bahamians. The Bill that covers gambling for us is the Lotteries and Gaming Act, not the Constitutional Referendum Amendment Bill presented Wednesday. The Bill presented Wednesday is not needed at all to amend the Lotteries and Gaming Act.

- The Government still wants Bahamians to get arrested and charged according to the law if they gamble in casinos or own casinos of their own, because it will not be amending the Lotteries and Gaming Act to allow Bahamians to gamble in the country’s casinos.

The Prime Minister has a 30-seat majority in Parliament so theoretically, any Bill he brings to Parliament will pass. Therefore, why is the Prime Minister doing everything he can to run away from holding a constitutional referendum?

No Government that holds 30 of 38 seats in a Parliament should have a theoretically logical reason to fear that anything it proposes by way of legislation will be voted down in Parliament.

So while the vote has been delayed, the key things the Bahamian people have asked for have not been addressed at all.

Incidentally, it is glaringly curious that the Prime Minister does not want to amend the Constitution on this matter that is of widespread national focus, but he has assembled a committee to review other potential amendments to the Constitution – some of which the Bahamian people have never asked for and know nothing about.

If the Prime Minister has a committee reviewing something as major as whether we should change our entire system of government and become a Republic instead of a Parliamentary Democracy, and on whether we should no longer have the Privy Council as our final court of appeal, why is he determined to avoid the lesser move of removing a clause from the Constitution that allows Bahamians to be discriminated against in their own country?