Friday, September 12, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
Here follows Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development Philip Davis’s contribution to the debate on The Gaming Bill:
It is a pleasure to rise on behalf of the people of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador and make a few comments in full support of the Gaming Bill and Regulations that were tabled by my honourable colleague a week ago Wednesday.
On that day, I did not have the opportunity to attend this place because I travelled to the far-flung island of Samoa to participate in extremely important discussions concerning the adverse effects of Climate Change and the critical need for renewable energy deployment.
Coming out of those meetings, I am clear that the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a part of a global society; and that society continually calls on its constituents to remain engaged in dialogue for common purposes.
The long journey home from Samoa, to Auckland, to Los Angeles and then through Miami, gave me a good opportunity to reflect on what contribution I would make to conversation in which we are now involved.
The abiding theme of my reflection was the requirement for us to be kind to one another regarding human frailty.
Each of us have our own frailties – each of us in this place and everyone that we serve. All of us are merely mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to God, but He deals with it. So should we. We are all imperfect. Whenever we refuse to acknowledge that imperfection, we refuse to see ourselves in our proper place.
As members of this House, we represent all of the people of The Bahamas. Together, even on that side, we are tied to an awesome responsibility to govern. We to have human frailties, but government has emplaced on us by the people, and to them we are accountable. As government, we are called to make decisions – and all of those decisions may not be popular. Some wise individual said that you can please all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time.
The unavoidable part of being in office requires us to make the right policy decisions and at the same time to be responsive and responsible to the community. Unfortunately, the right decisions do not always at the time appear to be just that. Only history vindicates courageous leaders who dare to row against the tide and end up being right.
The world over, leaders are being forced to make unpopular decisions which have made many people very angry. Tough times are always the most trying, especially for political leaders. This is a critical time for us in terms of legislation. We just saw passage of the Bill to establish VAT. Constitutional Reform is at issue; and now we debate gaming.
These issues are not trivial for us. However, throughout history, leaders have stood up and made bold decisions on many contentious issues. While some of us are here making those bold decisions for a better Bahamas, the rest of us sit on the side-lines mourning, criticising and commentating. But, we have real leaders on this side – leaders who dare to be revolutionary. Government is no spectator sport. When you sit here, the shouting that we hear from the side-lines is merely a distraction.
We will not be distracted, Mr. Speaker. No, no, no!
Let me bring focus to this issue. The conversation that we are having is about gambling, yes? However, it has been concluded, by some, that gambling is sinful. Let us look at this. Gluttony – that is sin; but does that make the act of eating sinful? Pride – that is sinful; but does that make the love of self sinful? Drunkenness – that is sinful; but does that make enjoying a glass of wine sinful? These addictions stem from irresponsible living. Each of us has an obligation to responsible living – regulating our lifestyles to the temperature that makes us most healthy. Some of us have to cut back on eating, some on drinking, and some on spending. These cutbacks may prove uncomfortable at the time, but over time they prove beneficial. This state of health, whether good or bad, is generally viewed as an issue of our moral compass.
And, Mr. Speaker
Morality cannot be legislated. What governments can do, though, is create prescriptions for citizens. These prescriptions are laws that we come to this House to debate. I believe that, for the most part, we are a law-abiding nation. Bahamians honour and observe laws more than breach them. This law concerning gambling, though, has been a nagging exception to the rule. I recall the days when the numbers man would make his rounds to homes and neighbours would busy themselves about trading dreams and interpretations. The numbers man would document the numbers and issue receipts for ten and twenty-five cents. Lord knows what happened after that, but everyone would know when Ma Lizzy down the road “caught” the number. The prohibition of gambling, for many ordinarily law-abiding Bahamians, has been one law that has breached more often than obeyed. Since Ma Lizzy’s day, gambling has evolved from the street walking numbers man to high-tech internet gaming. Today, we are inundated with web shops.
Even the former Prime Minister and member for North Abaco spoke to it in this place. He said:
‘Now Mr. Speaker, this society on a Sunday morning, you go to the gaming houses […] and it is like a bank on a payday – government payday. They are set up like a bank, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of places. Well, either we believe that it is illegal, or we believe that it should be legal. I told the Commissioner of Police last week, that it seems to me that we are unable to enforce the law, and that I was going to give consideration to legalising the number business. Of course, he didn’t support me in that thinking but the reality is that it is not an enforceable law…’
In fact, Mr. Speaker
The former prime minister had to espouse that view, because under his watch, the issuance of web shop licences proliferated. This situation cannot be policed. Law, as it exists, cannot be enforced. Truth be told, we are now at a stage where, even if we tried to shut down the numbers industry, government is faced with the difficulty of trying to completely kill it due to the widespread use of technology. That would take closing down the Internet. That is not an option in a democratic society.
I got word while I was in Samoa that members of the Christian Council sat in the gallery on Wednesday past to highlight the “death of democracy” in The Bahamas. On the way home, I wondered how many of the same pastors that preach about the wrongs of gambling themselves have accounts or accept benefits from these gentlemen?
The Christian Council continually confirms its opposition to the legalisation of gambling; but, to my recollection, as long as there was no attempt to bring order to the present web shop situation, everyone seemed happy to turn a blind eye. I know that their concern chiefly centres on the degradation of our society, but how many of them are secretly concerned about what will not make it to their collection plates? How many have given thought to the fact that a significant number of members of their congregations are Bahamians employed with exemption certificates to gamble for the house in hotel casinos as croupiers, pit bosses and supervisors? Have they given thought to the hundreds more who are employed in these same casinos are bartenders, barmaids, and ancillary workers?
We dig our proverbial heads in the sand if we ignore that fact that Bahamians love to gamble. They love the access that they have in their homes. Some love the games to their own detriment. However, the regularisation of this industry will not see a significant rise in the number of gamblers. Whoever wants to gamble is doing so right now. Anyone can walk into a web shop and place a bet. Regularisation will allow government to prescribe rules for the games and to secure funds from taxes for dealing with the social ills that derive from the abuse.
Government will also be in a position to fund programmes that can have a positive impact on our youth, such as community centres, sports and education facilities.
Gambling addicts are prone to reckless self-destruction, and government intervention is necessary to protect them. Currently, there is no process to hold the salesmen accountable. There are prohibitions on the sale of alcohol or tobacco to people under a certain age. Children cannot enter bars or nightclubs. However, when it comes to gambling, children are participating. I am told that children use lunch money to buy for numbers. Certainly, the regularisation will prevent this atrocity.
So, Mr. Speaker
While we protect the vulnerable, the reckless and the self-destructive with regulation, at the same time, we provide an avenue for the taxation of the industry and permit those with self-control the entertainment option of gambling.
The Leader of the Official Opposition and Member for Killarney has gone on record to label the Gaming Bill as a “charter for law breakers and the select few”. As I read, I wondered, “Who are these people? Who are the select few?”
Surely, the Member refers to the same “Sunday morning” crowd that gather at the gaming houses like a bank on a government payday? He must be referring to the thousands of families that benefit from employment in the industry. Surely, he must be talking about the thousands more who are registered, card-carrying participants in the industry, who purchase, spin, and win from the privacy of home. These “spinners” are unaware of the dangers of the practice in an unregulated environment. We are told that this environment provides easy access to the confidential information of web users by fearless network hackers who access such user details including credit card information – fearless because they know that there is no legal recourse for their actions.
Now, if he is referring to the existing web shop owners, does he think that the imposition of severe penalties gives them an unfair advantage? That is indeed a paradox if he is thinking that way.
So it is, Mr. Speaker
A democratic government exists to protect the people and their rights. We have an endemic challenge when it comes to gambling. While I am not surprised, it is curious that since August 2012, Killarney has yet again flip-flopped. Then, he said that he favoured regularisation of the industry. Listen to what he said then, Mr. Speaker.
“I have nothing against individual gambling in terms of lottery, numbers, et cetera…I just feel it should be done in the proper legalised manner…It must be regularised, it must be done in such a way that the country, be it the educational system, the health system, whatever, there must be benefit for the people”
Today, he sings a different story. But, he knows that the problem is endemic and will not go away. Given the opportunity at Government, I would wager any amount that he would switch again and take the same action that we are taking today – even under the circumstance of a No Vote. He would take the same action because he knows the validity of the Governor of the Central Bank’s advice that The Bahamas was operating in an untenable position in which the economy is being sucked. He knows that his party’s Chairman demonstrated rank disrespect for the Governor’s office by saying that we are hiding behind her “skirt-tails”. I would hope that he did not speak on behalf of Killarney or indeed Long Island who have publicly and forcefully affirmed that they do not support discrimination against women. If the Governor was a man, what would be said then?
Killarney and everyone else on that side knows that Government is compelled to legalise, regulate, and tax web shops because it is virtually impossible to shut the industry down. They know negative consequences of continuing the status quo. They know, Mr. Speaker! The question here is: if they know, why do they pretend not to know!?
Before I conclude, I wish to touch on the case that has been made for the consideration which will permit Bahamians access to gambling in casinos. They scoff at the discrimination. I will approach this by recalling the days of the petty shop. Just about every street corner had one. They were thriving businesses. In came the megastores, and out went Mama’s petty shop.
I recall the days of Freddie Munnings Band at the Silver Slippers then Cat and Fiddle. The Silver Slipper was on East Street next to the milk stand. The Cat and Fiddle was on Nassau Street. Then there was Paul Meeres and the Drumbeat Club on Market and Fleming Streets. Then there was Ronnies Rebel Room on Nassau Street. Then there were the King and Knights on West Bay. Live Bahamian bands were prevalent and tourists from all over the world used to go to those places. International entertainers and performers used to come and perform at those places.
Sadly, today, what may be seen the best days in the live music industry in The Bahamas have gone. Blanket liberalisation of the entertainment policy for hotels have made it difficult to find live entertainment in the City of Nassau. Why, because the small bands have been eaten by the DJ’s introduction of international music to hotel entertainment spots. Bahamians have abandoned their bands for the comfort and glitz of the hotel.
So, Mr. Speaker
We have sought to remove the discrimination incrementally to ensure sustained growth of our economy, protect employment, and avoid decimation of an industry that we now propose to regularise. Now, we seek to remove the discrimination that prohibits Bahamians gambling in The Bahamas. That is liberation…not discrimination. Later, this matter can be revisited and, based on what obtains at that time, further liberalisation may come.
Until then, Mr. Speaker
We believe that we are acting in the best interest of Bahamians and we believe that history will judge us fairly. We are not distracted by the sideliners and we are not confused. I will end with this excerpt from a newspaper article of 1861:
“[A certain President] has continued during the last week to make a fool of himself and to mortify and shame the intelligent people of this great nation. His speeches have demonstrated the fact that although originally a Herculean rail splitter and more lately a whimsical story teller and side splitter, he is no more capable of becoming a statesman, nay, even a moderate one, than the braying ass can become a noble lion. People now marvel how it came to pass that [the President] should have been selected as the representative man of any party. His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world. The European powers will despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a President.”
Who would believe that this was said of the same President Abraham Lincoln, who is remembered as the American Moses who brought his people out of slavery? His presidency secured the dominance of the Republican Party for the rest of their lives and their children’s lives. It is very interesting how history vindicates unpopular decisions taken by courageous leaders. History will judge us, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that history will judge us right. History will also note that the Official Opposition has voted against this revolutionary piece of legislation, if they proceed as they last intended.
With that, Mr. Speaker
Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador rests in full support of the Gaming Bill and Regulations. Thank you.