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Little has excited stronger opinions and emotions in recent times than the debate as to whether or not to decriminalize the numbers business. The arguments have grown stronger with the appearance of the "web shops", which have sprung up in New Providence.
Prohibition of numbers gaming in The Bahamas
In The Bahamas prohibition of the numbers business has been full of contradictions and irony. Bahamians have been playing numbers and running numbers businesses illegally for years. There have been police raids on such activities and prosecutions to no avail.
At the same time, it should be noted that Bahamians play games of chance at the annual carnival in Oakes Field without hindrance for 45 days each year.
The worst of it is that the money they spend goes out of the country to benefit another country.
Furthermore, unreasoning emotionalism has sometimes gone as far as calling for a ban on raffles, which are also games of chance, but happen to be one of the most productive means of funding the work of non-governmental, charitable institutions from which Bahamians have derived great benefit.
This country would be sorely bereft if such organizations ceased to exist.
The government purse cannot satisfy all the cultural and social needs that the benefaction of private sector individuals and corporate groups, such as the new web shops, supply generously.
Commentary and calls for action, as regards decriminalization of the numbers business, have run the gamut from letters to the editors of the local dailies strongly supporting or condemning the regularization of this form of gaming to even stronger evangelical fervor for complete prohibition of such enterprises. In its election platform, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which won the government in the May 7 general election, promised to put the issue to rest through a popular referendum. This commitment has since been reaffirmed. It is obviously time for a more logical look at pros and cons of the debate.
The case for decriminalization of the numbers business
Support for decriminalizing local gaming, particularly as relates to the operations of duly licensed web shops rests on the following main points. Such legislation would:
1. Assist in bringing about full legitimacy to businesses that are already duly licensed, tax compliant and in full compliance with all labor laws;
2. Create new revenue streams for the Public Treasury in tough economic times through the taxation of the profits of web shops.
The added income, which would run in the millions, would allow the government to build more hospitals and schools and operate more social programs benefiting all Bahamians;
3. Bring order and stability to the entire web café concept ensuring that only duly licensed and authorized vendors are able to operate a "legitimate" café or satellite locations abiding by all the rules and regulations, which this entails (sales, payouts, etc.).
Web shops are creating jobs, adding to the bottom line of various suppliers of goods and services, making large charitable donations and paying such taxes as current legislation demands
The supporters of legitimizing the numbers business as represented by the web shops argue that:
o Web shops are not the old numbers operations with runners and their customers making shady deals on the corners of rundown neighborhoods, with both sides at risk to cheating, robbery and police arrest. Rather, they are technologically sophisticated businesses providing safe surroundings, entertainment and accountability to the extent that the provisions of current legislation permit them to.
o Web shops supply various forms of entertainment that Bahamians choose for themselves.
o Web shops contribute to this country's economic health as businesses.
Providing easily verifiable information, proponents of the move for a referendum
o The various web shop groups together employ 3,000-plus Bahamians. They have also absorbed a good many persons who were made redundant when Atlantis downsized in recent times.
o They stimulate small business growth and further employment in purchasing courier, construction, repair and maintenance services and many others.
o They pay National Insurance contributions to the tune of $4 million-plus annually.
o Other payouts include over $10 million for electricity and cable services and paper.
The most serious aspect of the failure to decriminalize the numbers business
The law in action does not distinguish between the operators of numbers establishments and their customers and employees; when the police have made their periodic raids all have suffered the embarrassment of being hauled away like criminals. The implications are very serious:
1. In the trying conditions brought on by the lingering recession, Bahamians are glad to have the jobs that the growth of web shops has created. Is it right to shame these hardworking and honest Bahamians, deprive them of the dignity of work and perhaps drive them to less salubrious situations where they might indeed engage in dangerous and real criminal activity?
2. Consider the case of the web shop customers. The Bahamas government obviously does not hold games of chance to be intrinsically wrong, as it has legitimized casino gaming and raffles. Where then is the justification for excluding Bahamians from playing numbers, if they so choose? Can it be an attempt to deprive them of an aspect of their civil rights? Probably not in intent, but certainly in action.
How sound are the arguments against the decriminalization?
The lobby against gaming tends to claim that formal gaming businesses attract crime, take trade from small businesses and victimize the poor who are likely to make up the greatest percentage of gamers.
Gaming is also blamed for addiction and the breakup of families. Religious conservatives agree with these points and add that gaming violates the biblical standard of stewardship and brings about a decline in the work ethic.
The trouble with the anti-gaming argument lies in assigning blame for complex social issues such as crime, addiction and family dysfunction to a single source - playing numbers. This fallacy is compounded when prohibition of the numbers business is promoted as a solution and, sometimes, the only solution to this range of social ills.
Does banning/prohibition work? An example from history.
The biggest question is: Does prohibition work? History gives many peerless examples to the contrary.
The anti-liquor lobby had long held banning alcohol as the solution to the social and economic consequences of the consumption of strong drink.
Their cause in the United States succeeded when in 1919 the U.S. Government passed the Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. It is said that alcohol consumption did decline to some extent, but the period between the passage of the act and 1933 when the act was repealed, known as "Prohibition", gave rise to gangs of vicious bootleggers and other criminals, who often enjoyed the complicity of ordinary citizens. Chicago's notorious Al Capone and his ilk fed a reign of terror such as the United States had not known before.
It is obvious that prohibition can drive issues underground and create problems even greater than those it sought to get rid of.
The trouble with trying to legislate moral choices is that it obscures the deeper issues contributing to social and economic problems, thereby delaying or preventing the identification of causes and the search for more solid and lasting solutions.
Establishing a more workable and sustainable approach
Would it not be better to look into the matter logically, set up rules and regulations and establish a solid framework for compliance and monitoring as regards the operation of web shops?
Democracy in action
Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government appear to be taking the democratic route by allowing the web shop operators a hearing and by proposing to put the matter to the Bahamian people through a referendum.
It is a strategy that has already been criticized by opponents of legitimizing local gaming, but it is certainly to be congratulated as democracy in action.
Bahamians have long signalled their choice in the matter of playing numbers for whatever reason.
If they can be entrusted to vote for governments, would it be right to deprive them of the right to choose their entertainment when it does not impinge on the rights of others?
In 1973, the year of Bahamian independence, the U.S.-based fast-food chain Burger King launched the "Have it your way" advertising campaign. In a famous jingle the chain promised they could: "Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders don't upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way!"
The burger house, like others, was spreading its franchise globally, and adding a critical dimension to its marketing strategy. That dimension was giving consumers a customized product with greater choice, a hamburger made to order satisfying a range of tastes.
Burger King's strategy was the opposite of what the automobile pioneer Henry Ford quipped in 1909 about the mass-produced Model T: "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black."
Fast forward many decades. With the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979 the audio cassette player went portable. Portability was now taken for granted. Then there was a quick skip from portable CD players to the iPod.
The revolution sparked by the iPod and intensified by smartphones and other mobile smart devices was marrying portability and ubiquity of service to a dazzling array of choices. No matter where we are we can utilize smart devices and a wireless connection to near instantaneously access all manner of content.
We no longer have to purchase an entire CD to get the song we want. Now we can mix Lady Gaga, rake and scrape, and Bach's Piano Concerto in F Minor from the musician of our choice.
With devices like the Kindle and the Nook, we can hit a hyperlink from an article online taking us respectively to our Amazon or Barnes & Noble account downloading a book through a one-step order process all done wirelessly in 30 seconds. This isn't just choice; its choice on steroids meets instant gratification for bibliophiles or those simply interested in a given subject matter.
Today, we enjoy an extraordinary variety of choice in selecting the content of our liking whether in entertainment, news, general information, pornography or whatever peaks our curiosity or suits our fancy.
The reality of this array of choices engenders what might be called the sociology of choice influencing everything from ethics to education to politics. The worlds of advertising and marketing have an in-depth understanding of this new social ecology, applying it to sell every product or service imaginable from soap to sex.
The new mega churches understand the power of choice, while many traditional churches are still scratching their heads and souls wondering what's going on. The latter are often paralyzed by a static approach to new technologies and how to reach and influence current and prospective churchgoers.
The more cutting edge educational institutions understand the importance of integrating choice and various communications technologies to enhance student learning, such as utilizing experiential education methods employed by programs like the International Baccalaureate.
Meanwhile, many schools in The Bahamas, public and private, are lagging behind in approaches to teaching and learning, failing to connect the daily experience of their students with new approaches to learning.
In the political realm, one of the more important marketing features of the Democratic National Alliance was offering voters a different choice. Whether the DNA was a good or sensible choice is another matter. Still, by offering the idea of a different choice, the party attracted a fair number of voters probably costing the FNM a number of seats.
Those who fail to understand this notion of choice, whether religious groups, political parties or businesses, will pay a price in terms of votes, clients and adherents.
For example, the government-operated postal system is a dinosaur with a near fossilized network of branches. Because it was unable to deliver mail to consumers in a timely manner, thousands of Bahamians now utilize private post boxes for international mail and packages.
The lower level of the Main Post Office downtown where parcel posts can be collected resembles a graveyard. Still painted drab green the sign over that section should read: Rest in Peace.
In promoting a new mission for post offices as government information and services centers, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was attempting to drag the postal system from the 19th to the 21st century.
What many older folks are still getting used to in terms of the new world of choices galore, is second nature to younger people. Shopping at the Mall at Marathon, a 19-year-old is mesmerized by a love song she is hearing in a store playing a recording through its satellite radio service, Sirius XM, which offers the store owner and clients a plethora of musical choices.
The young lady is so enchanted by the sultry voice she is hearing for the first time that she has to know who is the artist pining, "Black is the color of my true love's hair...".
Our 19-year-old holds her smartphone up to the source of the music, hits the Tag button on her Shazam mobile application to identify Nina Simone singing her 1964 recording of "Black is the Colour".
Later at home, the young lady listens to several of Simone's recordings, and then posts a note on Facebook declaring to her over 1,000 "friends" her infatuation with the artist, 10 of whose songs she's already downloaded.
Inspired by her posting, several of her friends have also downloaded some of Simone's recordings, including a friend living in Seattle, who Skypes her that evening to share that she also has a newfound love of the artist.
All of which speaks to the other critical feature of the new world of technology and choice. The world of one-way communication has passed. Choice has been married to interactivity. What both choice and interactivity appeal to is the desire for agency, the ability to express one's desires.
By tapping into choice, a marketer, salesman or public relations expert taps into something fundamental and powerful in the human psyche, namely, the desire for individuality, with a complex of messages from an individual such as: "I matter!", "I'm important!", "Don't take me for granted!", and related messages of individuation.
Today, choice is not just something we appreciate. We demand and expect to have multiple choices. Yet there are a number of ethical dimensions to so much choice, including maintaining an ethic of a common good, how to choose wisely, and how to cultivate good or ethical decision-making and critical thinking in young people.
In terms of the latter, many of our schools are oblivious to the type of experiential education, critical thinking methods, ethical instruction and media literacy absolutely necessary to prepare our young people for a world quite different from when Bahamians needed an antenna on the roof to pick up one of three stations from Florida.
o email@example.com www.bahamapundit.com.
The Challenges Confronting Us
My Fellow Bahamians:
Tonight, I speak to you on the issue of crime which is undoubtedly the most pressing issue in our nation. Crime has become one of the greatest threats to our way of life and to life itself.
It is this diversity that makes me say that Grand Bahama’s economic picture is spotty. While areas of the industrial sector, which rely primarily on clients outside of The Bahamas, are holding their own, despite the significant aftershocks of the recent global economic and financial crisis, the tourism and construction sectors continue to underperform. Tourism, however, has yet another spotty picture, since the cruise business has seen meaningful increases while gains in the stopover business remain marginal, if not flat.