Eyeing a national lottery
Speaking at a rally on April 29, 2017, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis urged voters to reject the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) for failing to abide by the will of the people as expressed in the January 28, 2013 gambling referendum.
Referring to then Prime Minister Perry Christie, Minnis declared: “Vote him out because he ignored your will and ignored the people’s will in the gambling referendum.”
He was repeating a point he and other FNM candidates made repeatedly during the course of the election campaign.
The Christie administration’s decision to ignore the outcome of that referendum was partially to blame for its downfall. It lost the trust of the people early in its term and never regained it.
A majority of the people who voted in the referendum said no to the regularization of web shops and the creation of a national lottery.
We know the story well.
In 2012, Minnis said he would support the referendum.
“I have nothing against individuals gambling in terms of lottery buying, numbers, etc,” he said.
Several months later, the FNM urged Bahamians to vote no to both questions, claiming the whole process was flawed and there was not enough information.
The outcome of the vote was clearly not what Christie had anticipated and so he came up with excuses for why he was not going to listen to the people. His government decided to legalize web shops.
In 2014, when the government introduced the Gaming Bill, Minnis said, “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 lawbreakers and the select few, in that it legalizes previously criminal acts and provides a statutory advantage to existing lawbreakers.”
Around that same time, Brent Symonette, former deputy prime minister in the Ingraham administration, said the Christie administration’s move to regulate the web shop industry was reckless and showed the government was cocky.
“It goes to show the cockiness that this government has and the contempt they have for the Bahamian people. They don’t care. I remember some other fella had that same problem and he got beaten,” Symonette said.
He added, “The wishes of the people are the supreme voice in a democracy.
“The last time someone did that or a political party did that they were thrown out of office.”
When asked whom he meant, Symonette said, “If the shoe fits, wear it. I think everyone knows what I mean.”
A second look
Now, the FNM administration, which clearly has it in for the businessmen who own those web shops, feels no obligation to respect the wishes of voters as expressed in that referendum six years ago.
Although it saw the decision to ignore the outcome as egregious enough to reject the PLP at the polls, it too is considering ignoring the will of the people further; this time on the national lottery issue.
We suppose the Minnis administration’s argument on this matter will now be that it would be more beneficial to spread the benefits of gaming around than allow the “few” people who now benefit as a result of the former government’s decision to legalize web shops, to continuing benefitting.
Last week, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar told reporters that he has asked the Gaming Board to compile a report on whether The Bahamas should implement a national lottery.
“Obviously, many, many Bahamians opine on the fact that we should move to a national lottery,” said D’Aguilar, who has responsibility for gaming.
“I have asked the Gaming Board to opine on this issue, to do research on this issue and to bring it to the government for the government to make a decision on it.”
Early in the term, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said the introduction of a national lottery in The Bahamas was worth a serious look.
“It is hard not to answer that question without reference to the past,” he said in July 2017.
“I want to be careful about that because I don’t want to start another debate. However, I believe that most of us would agree that a national lottery can produce tangible benefits to the country; not only to individuals, but to us as a collective.
“There is no better tax system than a voluntary tax system. Right now, unfortunately, that voluntary tax is going into the hands of a few people. Even they are having difficulties in passing that tax into the system because of the nature.”
Turnquest said whether one believes in gambling or not, a national lottery is worth a second look.
The former administration concluded that, based on the advice of UK consultants, a national lottery was not the way to go.
In 2012, James Kidgell, a partner in Dixon, Wilson and Co., outlined numerous reasons why his team reached the conclusion that a national lottery would not be commercially feasible in The Bahamas.
Kidgell said a Bahamian lottery would need investment from or participation from some commercial enterprises, be it the government contracting with commercial enterprises or a commercial enterprise operating a lottery itself.
He said based on the “figures that we would expect the lottery to generate, it seems difficult to see how a commercial enterprise would see the returns that they would expect from participating”.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of the Gaming Board’s study into whether a national lottery would be feasible now.
Back in 2006, Kenyatta Gibson, who at the time was chairman of the Gaming Board and is again serving in that post, reported that the Florida Lottery had conservatively estimated that Bahamians playing the Florida Lottery were spending US$100 million every year.
In 2012, Kyle Keehan, a former director of the Jamaica Lottery Company, who is credited with helping to establish modern lotteries in the Caribbean, told us he and his team met with The Bahamas government in the late 1990s about the possibility of setting up a national lottery.
“The Bahamas was the last of the islands that didn’t have a lottery, and we know that the current numbers games there, the revenues are quite large, and the discussions we had with government there were to make that a government operation, where the government was benefitting from it,” Keehan said.
According to a 1999 article in the Jamaica Gleaner, Keehan was also a part of a high-ranking team from the Caribbean lottery industry that presented a proposal to create a Caribbean lottery similar to the U.S. Powerball game, where jackpots up to that point had reached $295 million.
The Gleaner noted that Keehan and his partners had been meeting with political and commercial leaders in the region to establish the parameters of the regional lotto game. These discussions focused mainly on which regional organizations will benefit from the funds.
Keehan told The Guardian the idea failed because multiple interests failed to reach agreement.
“We went to one of the CARICOM meetings and presented it to all the prime ministers and there was a lot of interest in it… What happened is we went country by country and everyone had different interests, but they never were able to agree on the fundamentals of how it was all going to work,” he explained.
National lotteries have long been established in many major countries in the region like Jamaica and Barbados.
Whether the Minnis administration would face any political fallout if it does pursue such a venture here is uncertain. For sure, it would be viewed in some circles as hypocritical, but the FNM under Minnis does not seem to care about such a characterization. Besides, Christie and the PLP have already paid a significant political price for ignoring the views as expressed by voters in 2013.