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As the country comes to grips with Monday's referendum result, opinions are mixed on whether the closing of web shops will have a major and lasting impact on the economy.
The "Vote Yes" campaign, strongly led by web shop owners and their employees, ran a platform emphasizing high employment numbers in the domestic gambling industry. Although the figure has never been unequivocally proven, it's speculated that some 3,000 people rely on web shops to make ends meet.
Zhivargo Laing, the former minister of state for finance, said there would indeed be a negative impact on the economy in the short term.
"But the monies they were earning remains in the economy," he argued. "That money will just be spent in different places. Even if the money isn't spent, the net result will be nil, because it was a domestic economic activity. The GDP (gross domestic product) shouldn't suffer."
Laing told Guardian Business that the displacement of funds could actually create new economic opportunities. Rather than spending money on gambling, Bahamians could allocate resources to other areas.
Franklyn Wilson, the chairman of Sunshine Holdings Limited, said the loss of employment would have a more substantial impact.
He questioned whether unemployed Bahamians would have realistic avenues for new jobs in this particular macroeconomic environment.
"So I don't know how useful it is to predict beyond the short run," he said. "There are so many forces at work here. But certainly, the prospects of those unemployed are not very promising."
A wild card in the whole matter, he added, is whether law suits by web cafes are successful in their battle to stay open. The government would be under pressure to close the web shops right away. However, he said the issue may be complicated by legal arguments.
Richard Coulson, a well-known financial consultant, said he is equally mystified on the long-term economic impact.
He argued that employment numbers for web shops are not altogether clear.
"It's just one big question mark," he said.
He agreed with Laing, in the sense that it could open up other possibilities to create jobs and revenue, such as the development of a renewable energy sector.
On Monday, Bahamians strongly rejected both questions on the gambling referendum, saying no to the regulation of web shop gaming and the establishment of a national lottery. The government has committed to "enforcing the law" and living up to its pledge to shut down the web shops.
The Bahamas already suffers from double-digit unemployment.
Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade said yesterday the police will take action against web shops.
Nearly a year after a gambling referendum failed, web shops continue to operate in the open.
"I will determine the time in which I want to move," said Greenslade, who was a guest on 'Hard Copy' on Peace 107.5 with host Steve McKinney.
"We have moved before and will move again. That is a fact."
At one point police did go into several web shops, but only one was shut down due to a breach of the Business License Act.
However, officers did not arrest anyone for illegal gaming activity, nor did they seize any of the establishments' assets.
Greenslade said yesterday more action is coming. However, he warned that police are being very careful.
"I don't want us to skew the fact," he said.
"We've got some serious issues that we contend with every day that we continue to work with...But we have to be responsible in discharging our duties."
When asked about the issue again later in the show, Greenslade warned gamblers.
"If you're doing something that is illegal, stop today," he said. "...Cease and desist. Do not be found in a place where you shouldn't be. And be very careful what you ask for. I'm going to leave it there."
Greenslade has made at least three similar public appeals in the past year.
Following the January 2013 referendum, both the police and government had pledged to take action against web shops.
Assistant Commissioner Leon Bethell said last year that police must have evidence of illegal activities within those establishments before they can shut them down.
Making a similar point, Greenslade said yesterday that policing web shops has become much harder than it was in past years.
A case is pending in the Supreme Court to determine whether web shops can legally engage in gaming activities.
Prime Minister Perry Christie recently indicated that he regretted the decision to take the gambling issue to a referendum.
When asked by The Nassau Guardian last Friday if he regrets not 'having a horse in the race', Christie said: "I ought to have moved immediately to regulate the industry without going to a referendum and to articulate to the people of the country that we were going to have enormous problems in trying to have an environment where it is not regulated."
Christie hinted that the government might still regulate web shops.
Attorney General Allyson-Maynard Gibson said yesterday her office will seek to have lifted an injunction secured by a group of web shop owners last month that prevents them from being shut down.
Senior Justice Jon Isaacs granted the injunction on February 30, two days after a gambling referendum failed.
Maynard-Gibson said the matter may be heard in mid-March.
The government filed an appearance in connection with that injunction earlier this month. The documents were filed on February 15.
"The judge indicated that he is prepared to hear it," the attorney general told reporters outside Cabinet.
"It will be the chief justice, I have been advised, and also once all counsel is ready."
Asked how long before this matter would reach some resolution, the attorney general said although a hearing should commence in mid-March, "who knows where it goes from there".
Attorneys Alfred Sears and Jeffery Lloyd represent Paradise Games. Wayne Munroe represents Island Game, Island Luck, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, Whatfall and Chances.
Maynard-Gibson said the prosecution must be able to prove that something illegal is happening in order for those web shops to be closed.
"The matter will be to lift the injunction and I want to say that we don't want to close any lawful business in The Bahamas," she said. "That is not the objective."
When asked whether web shops in The Bahamas were lawful businesses, Maynard-Gibson said if the web shops are strictly offering web services, "that is fine, but anything else, gaming is obviously illegal".
Sears and Munroe filed documents in the Supreme Court in an effort to permanently prevent the government from shutting down their clients' operations.
Even prior to the gambling referendum, web shop raids were scarce. More notably, in September 2011, a magistrate confiscated just under $1 million, which police seized during a raid on an FML Group of Companies web shop two years prior.
Maynard-Gibson said she expects FML Group of Companies CEO Craig Flowers' appeal to soon be heard in relation to that matter. She could not recall the date for that matter.
Attorney Wayne Munroe, who represents a group of web shop operators, claims that his clients' gaming operations, which consist of the 'Pick 3' and 'Pick 4' games, are not covered by the Lotteries and Gaming Act.
Munroe filed his clients' statement of claim in the Supreme Court recently.
"Insofar as persons access sites outside of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to place a wager on the outcome of the 'Pick 3' or 'Pick 4' games in the various states of the United States of America these games are not caught by the definition of lottery as set out in section 2 of the act," the court document states.
"Placing a wager on the 'Pick 3' or 'Pick 4' games in the various states of the United States of America is not and has never been the game called and known as 'numbers' as described in the definition of lottery as set out in section 2 of the act.
"There is no provision in the act that prohibits or criminalizes participants in such games when done over the Internet."
Munroe argues that his clients' operations are not illegal.
He represents Percy Web Cafe, Island Luck, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, Whatfall and Chances.
The court documents say the six web shops "assist members of the public with accessing and using websites domiciled both outside and within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas".
Munroe argues that his clients had a legitimate expectation that their businesses would have been regulated by the previous administration.
"In late 2010, the Office of the Attorney General was instructed to draft the 'Computer Wagering Licensing Regulations', which required pertinent information concerning the business," according to the document.
"The relevant plaintiffs supplied the government with any and all necessary information required to assist with the drafting of the regulations.
"The plaintiffs revealed every detail concerning the web shop industry to the minister of finance and relevant bodies.
"The plaintiffs will rely on the draft 'Computer Wagering Licensing Regulations' for their proposed effect at trail."
The Court of Appeal on April 17 rejected a bid by attorney Alfred Sears and Munroe to stay a ruling delivered by Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett.
Sir Michael lifted a conservatory order that prevented web shops from being subjected to police interference.
The lawyers secured the conservatory order on January 30, two days after a gambling referendum failed.
Following the referendum, Prime Minister Perry Christie ordered that all web shop gaming cease.
Sears and Munroe argue that Sir Michael erred in his judgment.
The substantive case is expected to be heard on May 24.
Munroe said his clients want to operate their businesses "either unmolested by officials" or ask the court to "direct the executive to regulate the business".
Web shops may be shut down for as long as three months if the January 28 gambling referendum passes, to give the government time to properly regulate the sector, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said. Wilchcombe, who has ministerial oversight for gaming, said the government would need between 30 and 90 days to process and approve web shop licenses, among other things.
The biggest loser in a yes vote to "support the regulation and taxation of web shop gaming" will be the Bahamian people. It should be noted that while that is the language of the proposed referendum question, the issue is really whether to legalize what is currently a criminal enterprise.
Pastors of the Save Our Bahamas Vote No campaign last night called on the government to stick to its promise and shut down web shops in The Bahamas in the face of yesterday's overwhelming 'no' vote.
"The commissioner of police said he has a contingency plan," said Christian Council President Ranford Patterson.
"We expect that contingency plan to be enacted, not tomorrow -- tonight. We expect the police and government to do what they say they were going to do."
Prime Minister Perry Christie said last week though, that if there is a low voter turnout the government would make the final decision on the referendum on web shop gambling and a national lottery.
He also said the vote would be non-binding.
Patterson, along with other members of the Save Our Bahamas campaign, celebrated at Grace Community Church last night.
Patterson said he thinks Christie will shut down web shops.
"The prime minster is on record as saying what he will do and so I have no fear as to what will happen," he said.
"The Bahamian people have spoken.I have no fear. I believe the prime minister when he said that he's going to use the resources of our government to enforce the laws and so I expect it to happen."
Christie has said if there is a no vote he would shut down the web shops.
The Save Our Bahamas group has held events throughout the run up to yesterday's referendum, many of which saw low turnout compared to the Vote Yes campaign.
Spokesman for the Vote No campaign, Pastor Lyall Bethel, said the government should respect the voice of the people.
"I think we need to start being treated with a little more respect because I think the people have spoken; the government should hear, they can trust the church on this issue," he said.
The fate of web shop workers remained unclear late last night. Reportedly, 3,000 people work in the industry.
Bethel said he thinks that figure of 3,000 jobs, which was advertised by the prime minister and the Vote Yes campaign, was inflated.
"It started off at 3,000 and then it went to 4,000," he said.
"Well how did it get to be 4,000 all of a sudden? We felt they were inflating figures all along.
"Nonetheless there are people who are going to find themselves out of a job in the near future.
"We're sympathetic too that we want to work with the government in some way to be able to help but ultimately the government provides jobs, not the church. The church looks after souls."
Bethel and Patterson also agreed that Rev. Dr. Philip McPhee of Calvary Baptist Church and Bishop Simeon Hall of New Covenant Baptist Church, who were in support of a yes vote, will always be welcomed back to the fold.
"We have no problem with them," Patterson said.
"Brother Mario Moxey said it well; the church is a big tent and we all make decisions sometimes that are not in the best interest of ourselves or of the organization of which we are a part.
"So all we are saying to our brothers is, you made the wrong decision, but it's not too late to regroup and to organize and be a part of the fellowship again. We've never dismissed them, we've never put them out of fellowship.They will always be our brothers and so we have no problems with them."
Members of the Save Our Bahamas Committee yesterday called the Vote Yes Committee's promise of a public share offering if web shop gaming is legalized a "shameless ploy designed to buy votes".