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It would be a gamble for police to take any action on web shops while the matter is still before the courts, attorney Wayne Munroe has warned.
Munroe, who represents six web shops, was responding to statements made by Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade last week.
Greenslade warned web shop gamblers and operators to "obey the law" and stop gambling as police can turn up at "any time" to make arrests.
Munroe said he has no problem with the police carrying out investigations, but added that the police have to be careful not to act outside the law when doing so.
"If they were to do something while issues are before the court it [would be] a gamble," he said.
"When you gamble, some games of chance are improved by the exercise of skill, but fundamentally they are games of chance and while you are in litigation, it's a gamble."
Greenslade said when the police determine that it is appropriate to take a course of action, they will.
"But I could assure you if there is illegal activity taking place I would suggest that those persons who are a part of it should pay attention," he said.
"We can turn up at any time."
Munroe said if the police act irresponsibly, then the victim has a right to take action.
"Unlike some people, I'm not going to presume to tell [the commissioner] how to do his job," Munroe said.
"No doubt he'll be taking advice. But the most perplexing thing for us is if he acts then of course we will catch it on the CCTV cameras that are in these institutions, we'll memorialize it for evidence and no doubt it will feature in the case.
"But we take no issue with [the commissioner's] statements. He says what's on his mind. He takes a position and he has been consistent with it.
"If indeed something happens that we say is improper there is a remedy for us. Whether it would be adequate or not for us is a different issue."
Asked if he is concerned that the police may raid the web shops, Munroe said, "My position is this, we have to be prepared for what happens.
"The police will do what the police will do and once they've done it, as I said, most of these establishments have CCTV cameras, so it would be caught on camera.
"No doubt in this age of technology it will be recorded on people's cell phones, video recorders...So if police are belligerent and don't do their duty or act bizarrely then it will be captured.
"The police have the ability to [go anywhere] to investigate so nobody is saying they should not do their job. They will take advice and they will do what they intend to do. I don't intend to tell the commissioner of police how to do his job."
Munroe represents Percy Web Cafe, Island Luck, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, Whatfall and Chances.
Those web shops are appealing Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett's decision to discharge a conservatory order that prevented web shops from police interference.
Paradise Games, which is represented by Alfred Sears, is also appealing that decision.
The case will be heard on May 24.
Both Munroe and Sears charged in their appeals that Sir Michael erred in his judgment.
The web shop operators took court action after a failed gambling referendum on January 28.
Courts in The Bahamas have no authority to block police from taking action if they deem anyone is carrying out an illegal activity, Court of Appeal President Anita Allen said yesterday.
Allen made the statement before the appellate court rejected a bid by two prominent attorneys to stay a recent ruling of Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett as it relates to web shops.
Sir Michael lifted a conservatory order last week that prevented web shops from being subjected to police interference.
Attorneys Alfred Sears and Wayne Munroe were attempting to secure the stay pending the determination of a substantial application before the Court of Appeal to overturn Sir Michael's ruling.
Sears, who represents Paradise Games, said his client fears police will interfere with his business, which could result in bankruptcy if the stay or another conservatory order is not granted.
Attorney Wayne Munroe, who represents Percy Web Cafe, Island Luck, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, Whatfall and Chances, said his clients fear that politicians will put pressure on the commissioner of police to act.
However, Allen said the conservatory order granted to web shop owners by Senior Justice Jon Isaacs in January was "superfluous".
She said the order can not prevent police from carrying out investigations into whether the web shops or any business is conducting illegal activities, and it can not prevent police from making arrests.
The lawyers secured the conservatory order on January 30, two days after a gambling referendum failed.
The failed referendum was followed by a directive from Prime Minister Perry Christie that all web shop gaming cease.
Both attorneys contended yesterday that their clients are carrying on legal businesses, although Sears said he has never set foot in his client's establishment.
Sears told the court that his client operates an Internet cafe which entitles members unrestricted access to Internet sites.
He also pointed out that according to the law, anyone found on the premises where a lottery is taking place can be arrested.
"This is a matter of extreme concern to my clients and their patrons," he said.
Sears said his client does not determine what sites members access or how long they use the Internet.
He said the cafes are used by a wide range of people, including students who may go in to conduct research.
He added that the danger is if you are on the premises when a police raid takes place and someone is using the Internet for gaming purposes then everyone would get arrested.
When asked by Justice Allen if that was a legitimate fear, Sears said it is, as it happened several years ago.
But Justice Allen said the attorneys were dancing around the issue and not addressing "the elephant in the room", which is the alleged gaming aspect of the web shop operations.
She said the attorneys did not establish their right to injunctive relief.
But Sears said the conservatory order gave his client some level of comfort.
Justice Allen replied that the Court of Appeal is not in the business of providing comfort.
Sears said the conservatory order also gave the public the confidence needed to patronize his client's business.
Without it, he said, patrons may fear that they may get caught up in a raid.
But Justice Stanley John said if patrons are carrying out legal business they should have no fear.
He added that if the police act irresponsibly, then the victim has a right to take action.
Justice Neville Adderley said it seems as if Sears is seeking to protect the rights of the wider public rather than those of his client.
Following the judgment, Munroe told reporters that based on statements in court, he did not consider the ruling a setback.
"There is no substantial grounds to fear, bearing in mind the commissioner of police said quite sensible statements that he will act responsibly," Munroe said.
"...The executive is not seeking to usurp the judicial function, and you would have heard me say that my clients' fear is driven by some politicians' irresponsible statements.
"I think the commissioner of police described them as such as well and described them as mischief."
He added: "If there was some reason to think that the commissioner would run amuck then the results may have been different."
Sears offered similar comments.
"I'm sure that the commissioner will not allow anyone to push him to take any precipitous action," he said.
"I'm happy that the court has heard us and has set an early date for the appeal that will provide us with the opportunity to test the ruling of the chief justice and we will take it from there."
Asked why they did not address the "elephant in the room", Sears said more information will be set out in the statement of claim, which will be filed in court before May 3.
The substantive case is expected to take place on May 24.
Both attorneys contend that Sir Michael made errors in his judgment.
Loren Klein is representing the crown.
The government has no choice but to order the closure of web shops, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday.
"We live in a county that has laws," said Minnis, after Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett lifted the conservatory order that prevented police or the government from shutting down web shop gaming.
"The people have spoken, the chief justice has issued a judgment and we expect the laws to be upheld."
Sir Michael discharged a conservatory order that protected web shops from police action.
He said the interlocutory order that attorneys Wayne Munroe and Alfred Sears sought on behalf of their clients (web shop owners) was not granted.
Sears and Jeff Lloyd represent Paradise Games. Munroe represents Island Game, Island Luck, FML, Asue Draw, Whatfall and Chances.
Minnis said the government must now live up to its word.
"The prime minister and the commissioner of police are on record saying that they would carry out the wishes of the people," he said.
"However, the wishes of the people were stopped because of the [conservatory order]...The prime minister was elected by the people to govern the country and carry out the laws of the people; the people would expect him [to act immediately]."
Senior Justice Jon Isaacs granted the conservatory order on January 30, two days after a gambling referendum failed.
The day before, Prime Minister Christie ordered all web shop operators to shut down their gaming operations immediately or face arrest and prosecution.
Minnis said the opposition will be "watching everything closely" to ensure that the Christie administration sticks to that original warning.
During the run-up to the referendum, Minnis called on Bahamians to vote no to the taxation and regularization of web shops and to the establishment of a national lottery.
Minnis criticized the government for its handling of the referendum, adding that the Christie adminstration did not educate the public sufficiently on the issues before the vote.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said yesterday he would have to confer with the attorney general before making any announcements about the fate of web shop operations in the country.
Christie spoke with reporters briefly after Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett lifted a conservatory order that prevented authorities from stopping web shop gaming.
The prime minister was approached while at a lunchtime function. He said he needed a chance to read the judgment.
"I don't think you can ask me that," he said when asked if police will arrest people in web shops.
"I can not tell you what the responsibility of the police [is]. The police are there to enforce the law, and so if you want to ask the police whether they are going to enforce the law that's what you should do. Obviously, we expect when a judgment is read that after the police have had an opportunity to read the judgment and have the judgment interpreted for them then they will act."
Last week, Crown Counsel Loren Klein said the Office of the Attorney General would prosecute web shop operators if Sir Michael discharged the conservatory order, and they refused to cease gaming.
Klein has said the web shop owners would face "a plethora of offenses".
When asked yesterday if the ruling meant police would shut down web shops immediately, Klein said, "I think the authorities would respect the process of the courts.
"I don't see that happening, certainly not until the Court of Appeal has had a chance to consider the matter."
On January 28, a majority of people who voted in a referendum voted against the establishment of a national lottery and the regulation and taxation of web shops.
The next day, Christie ordered all web shop operators to shut down their gaming operations immediately or face arrest and prosecution.
On January 30, attorneys Wayne Munroe and Alfred Sears, a former attorney general, obtained the conservatory order on behalf of Island Luck, Island Game, Whatfall, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, Paradise Games and Chances.
Senior Supreme Court Justice Jon Isaacs granted the conservatory order pending the outcome of the substantive matter on the legality of web shops.
Christie said yesterday his government's position on web shops has not changed. However, he said officials will comply with the decision of the court.
"My position is on the record," he said. "It's been referred to in the case itself.
"Once the court rules clearly on the law there's no confusion as to what is to be expected and if the web shops have been ruled to be an illegal, an illicit activity, then they have to act accordingly."
The attorneys representing the web shops have said they will appeal Sir Michael's ruling.
Provisions to restrict the number of web shop licensees under the most recent draft of the Gaming Bill will ease the regulatory burden placed on the government and avoid the "proliferation" of web shops, according to a lawyer representing five major numbers houses.
Alfred Sears, former attorney general and representative for FML, Island Luck, Island Game, Chances and Asue Draw, commented on the unclear future of small web shops, arguing that the license limit was in the country's best interest by regulating the number and location of web shops.
"[The restriction] is generally expected in terms of avoiding the proliferation of web shops on every street corner or school areas... It promotes greater efficiency of regulatory supervision that is consistent with global practices," stated Sears during an interview with Guardian Business.
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe earlier claimed that the government would likely issue licenses to no more than eight web shops following the passage of the bill, which would likely force smaller web shops to close.
"The goal is to ensure that the regulatory capacity is not overwhelmed, while still remaining competitive," stated Sears, noting that lowering the burden on regulators would increase the efficiency of tax collection.
Sears' remarks followed last week's tabling of the 2014 Gaming Bill in the House of Assembly, which stated that web shops would require a government invitation to apply for gaming house licenses.
Section 3 of the Gaming House Operator Regulations, 2014 reads: "No gaming house operator license or gaming house premises license may be applied for, other than in response to an invitation to apply for such licenses issued by the board, with the concurrence of the minister."
While the bill will undoubtedly cut down on the number of web shops in the country, Wilchcombe has suggested that the number of licensed web shops may change according to demand. The bill additionally reads that all such invitations will be issued in the form of a request for proposal (RFP).
EDITOR, The Tribune.
It is a known fact that the majority of Bahamians have resorted to being parasites. We unfortunately would prefer to hustle rather than work, we would prefer to borrow and not pay back. We prefer to join asue and disappear after we get our draw. We would literally "kiss up" to get money, including things rather than work and get what we want on our own. We unashamedly want something for nothing.
The government has built the much-awaited, much-talked about, much-dreamed about and much-anticipated Straw Market. This government venture is planned to be a cultural place where artists and artisans can not only sell, but display their treasured work showing tourists what ...
The Office of the Attorney General would prosecute web shop operators if Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett discharges an order that currently protects their businesses, and they fail to follow a directive to end gaming, according to Crown Counsel Loren Klein.
Klein told Sir Michael yesterday they would face "a plethora of offenses".
The AG's office is asking the court to discharge the conservatory order granted by Senior Justice Jon Isaacs on January 30. That order prevents police from taking action against operators who refuse to stop web shop gaming.
Attorneys representing a group of operators are seeking to have that order extended until the court rules on
their substantive case. They argue that what their clients do is legal.
In relation to whether the order should be extended, attorneys representing web shop bosses and the government argued before Sir Michael for nearly six hours yesterday.
Sir Michael is expected to rule shortly on whether to discharge the order.
He heard submissions from Wayne Munroe, Alfred Sears and Klein before declaring that he would take the matter under advisement.
Munroe represents Percy Web Cafe, Island Luck, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, Whatfall and Chances.
Sears and Jeff Lloyd represent Paradise Games.
Attorney Derek Ryan, who represents Bahama Dreams, filed an affidavit last Thursday.
Sir Michael did not hear submissions from him yesterday because he was not a part of the group nor did he serve the Office of the Attorney General with a summons.
The conservatory order was granted after a majority of voters who voted in a gambling referendum said no to web shop gaming and the establishment of a national lottery.
The chief justice also questioned why Sears and Munroe did not state what their clients' businesses do in their affidavits.
"The problem I'm grappling with is, unlike the evidence provided by Mr. Ryan where he is candid with the court, the evidence of the plaintiffs does not set out what the activity of the businesses of the plaintiffs is, other than web café, and studiously avoids whether or not it is engaged in web shop gaming," said Sir Michael.
Sears argued that web shops are not defined in the Lotteries and Gaming Act and added that there was full disclosure in the affidavits.
Klein argued that web shop operators are clearly engaged in activities outside the Lotteries and Gaming Act, something he claimed the owners have admitted.
Munroe and Sears argued that this was not so.
Munroe also pointed out that Klein did not deny the meetings that took place between the government and web shop owners or the draft regulations the Ingraham administration created.
He contended that those meetings created reasonable expectation for his clients that they would be regulated.
Sears and Munroe also argued that if the police were to interfere with their clients' businesses they would face bankruptcy, their credit worthiness would suffer and employees would be adversely affected.
Klein said he found these arguments generic.
"In these sorts of matters there are some financial figures provided, not just a self serving affidavit," he said.
"They should quantify any possible losses."
The chief justice asked Klein if he was threatening to shut down the web shop operations.
Klein said no.
"No one can interfere with the web café aspect of the business," he pointed out.
Sir Michael noted that a statement issued by Prime Minister Perry Christie the day after the gambling referendum only spoke to shutting down the web shop gaming aspect of their businesses.
Klein argued that one should not restrain the powers of the executive branch of government.
Sears and Munroe also argued that the constitution does not allow for the government to dictate how people spend their money on entertainment.
Sears and Munroe are expected to file their statements of claim before Sir Michael makes his decision.
An up-and-coming but historically-connected baseball program has been embraced by the Bahamas Baseball Federation (BBF).
An all-star team from four inner city programs in New Providence is competing in the BBF tournament for the second consecutive year. The Community Baseball League of New Providence squad is made up of players from camps coordinated in New Providence by Ed Armbrister, Fred "Papa" Smith, Mario Ford and Andy Percentie.
The community league is from the so-called 'poor' side of the track - the Over The Hill section of New Providence. The program struggles for equipment and other necessities. Nevertheless, the team forges on, and Community Baseball League President Tony Scriven has high hopes for the players' futures.
"We are satisfied with where we are. We are doing something that will pan out later into a much bigger and competitive program. Right now we are focusing on the social aspect. These kids are from tough social environments. Because of that, we cover all of their costs when they travel. The parents and guardians are not appealed to for any funds. We get the sponsors and give them opportunities for exposure and social interaction with other young boys. I want to thank the Community Baseball League reliable sponsors who always step up to support," said Scriven. He was referring to Milo Butler Jr., Asue Draw, Bahamas Fire and Welding, United Sanitation, Beauty Shack and Tyrone McKenzie.
The league is growing quickly, however, and Scriven is appealing to others who might wish to assist with the wholesome development of the inner city boys, to come on-board. The potential is there for a bright future.
The historic connection for the Community Baseball League all-star team is Ed Armbrister. He is the only Bahamian to win World Series rings. He did so in 1975 and 1976 with the Cincinnati Reds. Smith played professional baseball and Ford has been running a camp now for almost 30 years, so the community league is well connected.
There are at least 251 web shops in operation run by 35 different companies, according to documents obtained by The Nassau Guardian.
The information from the Ministry of Finance details the web shops that were licensed by the government in 2013.
The largest web shop operator is Island Luck, which has 44 licensed locations in New Providence and several Family Island locations, according to the data.
Other large franchises include Paradise Games with 36 locations; Asure Win with 30 locations; Asue Draw 28 locations; WhatFall.com with 22 locations and Chances with 20 locations.
The FML brand of web shops, owned by prominent businessman Craig Flowers, had 10 licensed locations last year, according to the data.
Today marks the first anniversary of the referendum which asked voters if they supported the regulation and taxation of web shops and the creation of a national lottery.
On January 28, 2013 about 45 percent of registered voters turned up at the polls. Results from the Parliamentary Registration Department show that 17,000 more people voted no on the question of web shop gaming than those who voted yes.
The numbers show that 46,961 people voted no to a national lottery and 33,170 voted yes.
Flowers made a bold declaration a week before the vote.
He told The Nassau Guardian that he would close all of his web shops in the country and send staff home with benefits if the referendum failed and the government ordered a shut down of the industry.
He is one of several web shop bosses locked in a court battle with the government over the legality of their operations.
Attorney Wayne Munroe, who represents the businessmen, said there has been no movement in the case since last May when his firm filed a statement of claim.
Munroe believes the case will remain in limbo until Parliament passes the Gaming Bill.
"The next step is for the Office of the Attorney General to file their defense," Munroe said in a recent interview.
"But before that could happen, the government indicated [its] intention to pass a Gaming Bill into law. So it's a consensus that there is no point moving forward with litigation that has to do with the Lotteries and Gaming Act when it's the stated intention of the government to repeal it.
"Right now we're challenging the Lotteries and Gaming Act and asking for it to be interpreted.
"[It's] pointless driving that action forward strongly to litigation if the government says it's going to replace this."
A draft of that Gaming Bill was tabled in the House of Assembly last October and debate was expected to begin a few weeks later.
However, the bill has been shelved and a definitive date for when it will be debated is not known.
Former Senator Philip Galanis, who coordinated the referendum's Vote Yes campaign, also believes the ongoing court action is the reason why the industry is still vibrant.
"Police cannot enforce the law in terms of closing down the web shops and the government has taken no action to move either positively or negatively in this matter," Galanis told The Nassau Guardian.
"I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that this matter is still before the courts."
Still, Galanis believes the Christie administration should take the lead and regulate the sector.
"I believe that the government can however make a preemptive strike and proceed with perhaps making the necessary regulations in order to legitimize this activity. And I think it's the right thing to do because this is part of the underground economy.
"The industry is comprised of young entrepreneurs, with talent, who make a tremendous, positive impact on the gross domestic product.
"They employ nearly 4,000 people. They can also be taxed in a way that is equitable to all so that the government is able to receive some benefit from that activity, and I think that is something that should drive the government to do what is necessary and right in the circumstances."
The day after the referendum, Prime Minister Perry Christie ordered web shops to cease their gaming operations with immediate effect or face prosecution.
However, a handful of web shop operators secured an injunction on January 30, 2013 to prevent the government and police from shutting their businesses down.
Christie recently said that he regrets holding the referendum.
In an exclusive interview with The Nassau Guardian, he said he should have taken the bold step of regulating web shops after coming to office and not put it to a public vote.
His declaration, and the government's inaction over web shops, have angered those who fought against the referendum.
Bahamas Christian Council President Rev. Dr. Ranford Patterson last week called on the government to be guided by the results of the referendum and shut web shops down.
Whether the government will move to do this or introduce legislation to regulate the sector remains unclear.
Whatever the outcome, it may have little effect on the thousands of patrons who use web shops to gamble in store or online.
The Nassau Guardian spoke with one frequent gambler who said the referendum's results did nothing to deter him from the practice.
"I'm not afraid because if the government wanted to lock you up for [gambling in a] web shop, why do they give people licenses?" asked the 55-year-old maintenance worker, who did not want to be named.
"I'm working, but I need extra money so I play numbers to get a little extra money.
"Fifty cents gives you $200. Some people don't make that in a week. So if I could buy a number for a dollar with a four ball and win $3,000, why not?"
It has been nearly a year since the government held the controversial referendum on gambling.
Although voters overwhelmingly rejected both questions on the ballot, little appears to have changed in the day-to-day operations of "illegal" web shops.
The referendum was hard fought by the Vote No campaign, made up mainly of a group of religious leaders who oppose gambling for moral reasons, and the Vote Yes campaign, which was backed by web shop owners.
The church argued that legitimizing web shops would lead to further social decay and the breakdown of the family.
Several web shop bosses, who for years were reluctant to speak publicly about their businesses, came out of the shadows and urged the public to support the referendum.
Days before the vote, more than 1,000 Vote Yes supporters, web shop owners and workers marched in front of
o Remains, page L5
They insisted they were legitimate businessmen who contribute to the economy through employment and charitable donations.
However, their arguments did little to sway the electorate.
On January 28, about 45 percent of registered voters turned up at the polls. Voters were asked if they supported the regulation and taxation of web shops and the creation of a national lottery.
Results from the Parliamentary Registration Department show that 17,000 more people voted no on the question of web shop gaming than those who voted yes.
The numbers show that 46,961 people voted no to a national lottery and 33,170 voted yes.
Before the referendum, Prime Minister Perry Christie repeatedly stressed that his government "had no horse in the race" and pledged to abide by the outcome of the vote.
The referendum was initially scheduled for December 3, 2012 but was pushed back due to criticism that the government was rushing the vote.
The government also needed to delay the vote to pass legislation that would amend the Constitutional Referendum Act, to allow a referendum that would not alter the constitution.
Despite the delay, many felt that the government fell down on the education process, leaving voters with unanswered questions about what would happen if the referendum was successful.
Some detractors also denounced the referendum because the government chose not to include the question of allowing Bahamians to gamble legally in local casinos.
Before the referendum, battle lines were also drawn across the political divide.
The opposition had urged voters to vote no if they were unsure about the questions.
For months, the Free National Movement hammered the government for taking too long to release the referendum questions and not providing the public with enough information to make an informed decision.
Less than a week before the vote, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced that he planned to vote no to both questions and urged voters to do the same.
A day after the vote, Christie released a statement ordering web shops to shut down their gaming operations or face arrest. He also warned patrons of web shops that they could face criminal charges if found gambling.
"In keeping with my government's commitment to abide by the will of the electorate as expressed on Monday's referendum, it has become necessary to effect the closure of all web shop gaming operations in The Bahamas," Christie said.
However, attorney Wayne Munroe quickly launched court action on behalf of Island Game, Island Luck, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, and Chances to block the government from shutting them down.
Attorney Alfred Sears also filed court papers on behalf of Paradise Games.
That court action has not been resolved and web shops remain open and some brands have expanded their businesses this year.