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People who play numbers will get a chance to win more than just money this Christmas.
Some numbers bosses are offering houses, cars and other grand prizes.
But Pastor Mario Moxey of Bahamas Harvest Church and Pastor Lyall Bethel of Grace Community Church said they think the numbers bosses are attempting to gain support.
But a former numbers house executive dismissed claims of bribery yesterday.
However, the pastors said it's no coincidence that the grand offerings have come ahead of next month's referendum on gambling.
"I think the Bahamian people see through their gimmick and see it just as a gimmick," Moxey said. "They're trying to buy votes.
"In one sense it's their attempt to relay to the general public that they are good samaritans, when in fact they are trying to legitimize a behavior that most Bahamians see as immoral."
The Nassau Guardian reported previously that the number houses are sweetening the pot.
According to Levin Wilson, a former executive at Asue Draw, at least four major web cafes are now offering grand prizes.
He said one numbers house is offering a house and another is offering several prizes, including cash of up to $1 million, a house and a car.
According to Wilson, another is offering cash and cars, and another major numbers house will raffle cars.
He explained that once someone purchases a number for a minimum of $5, the person's name is entered into a bag for a chace to win a grand prize.
Wilson said individual numbers houses will draw the winning names on separate days.
"It's a very competitive market," he said. "And everyone is trying to come up with ways to increase market share.
"I think that's the reason the web cafes are doing this at this time.
"If they wanted to buy votes, why wouldn't they just use the cash and get more mileage on the money? It doesn't make sense for them to spend $250,000 on a house for one person when they can share that among a lot of people. That just doesn't make sense. Think about it."
Over the last several years the market has been saturated with web cafes.
Even with the grand prizes, Pastor Moxey said he thinks the referendum will fail.
"I don't think it will have an effect on the votes," he said. "On referendum day, they will vote on their conscience."
Meantime, the "vote ye"s campaign is gathering steam with several television and radio ads being played in heavy rotation.
Moxey said the "Save The Bahamas" campaign, which is headed by the Bahamas Christian Council, also has major support and will gain more traction in the new year.
The referendum will be held on January 28.
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).
We write as pastors to address a blatant attempt to beguile the general public and church members alike that there are many pastors who are in support of legalizing the currently illegal web gambling shops in The Bahamas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Contrary to the impression that the "We Care" gambling coalition and Rev. Dr. Philip McPhee are seeking to convey to the general public, the church in The Bahamas is not divided on the issue of legalizing the numbers business, nor does it support the commencement of a national lottery.
After speaking with several of the pastors who attended the meeting organized by McPhee, it is clear that they were unwittingly used to promote the cause of the gambling coalition and McPhee. One pastor stated that they were "bamboozled" and "tricked" by the whole procedure, and regrets that he was used in this way. The meeting was advertised as a face-to-face meeting with web shop owners, where pastors could make the church's position against gambling clear. However, published comments from McPhee concerning the meeting leave members of the public with the impression that these pastors were largely in support. Again, such an impression is false.
Obviously, a campaign has already started to seek to deceive voters into believing that a significant number of pastors either "support'' or are "not against'' the proposition to legalize the selling of numbers, thus weakening voters' resolve to vote against the referendum. Furthermore, it was a wretched attempt to undermine the authority of the president of The Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) who was away burying his father and who is on record as saying that the BCC is "diametrically opposed" to gambling. No doubt, the president will be responding on behalf of the BCC in due course.
For the record, we are compelled to state that Rev. Dr. Philip McPhee (whose sailboat Thunderbird is known to be sponsored by the web shop Asue Draw) has compromised his voice on this issue and is not authorized to speak on behalf of the BCC, the Baptist community, and the church in general (and we suspect his views do not even represent the majority his own church members).
If we buy McPhee and the gambling coalition's argument that because they give out a few dollars to help charities and regattas we should legalize the numbers business, then a similarly flawed argument can be used to legalize the illegal drug trade because many drug dealers, like convicted drug smuggler Samuel "Ninety" Knowles, have used and continue to use their ill-gotten gains to assist the poor. Further to this, what does it say about the "law" when owners of these illegal web shops are publicly stating that they use their illegal proceeds to try to buy legitimacy?
We have every confidence that the voters in this country will not be duped by the spurious arguments being put forth by the coalition, and will soundly defeat the gambling proposition because there is no economic, social or moral justification for doing so. Further, we hasten to add that it would be criminal for the Bahamian government and the Bahamian people to exploit the gambling addiction of poor Bahamians by taxing their gambling addiction for the benefit of the government and a handful of already filthy rich illegal gambling operators.
It is clear that, as we approach the referendum on gambling, battle lines are already being drawn with operators of gambling houses using their illicit gambling proceeds to seek to finance a referendum outcome in their favor; this includes attempts to pedal their influence even within the church community. However, while they have money on their side, gained from successive governments (Free National Movement and Progressive Liberal Party) aiding and abetting their exploitation of the poor, the truth about gambling is not on their side; and that truth is that gambling (especially numbers gambling) further impoverishes the already poor and makes no economic sense.
While we speak as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we believe we speak for the majority of Bahamians who on our nation's 39th independence anniversary still believe the words of the preamble to our nation's constitution that affirm that the preservation of our "freedom will be guaranteed by a national commitment to self-discipline, industry, loyalty, unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the rule of law." Gambling is and will always be contrary to these values, and our prayer is that the majority of Bahamians will continue to hold this to be so and will vote "no" to gambling in the upcoming referendum.
- Pastors Lyall Bethel, Allan Lee, Cedric Moss, Dr. Myles Munroe, Mario Moxey, Alfred Stewart
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 ...
Web shops will not be able to continue offering sports betting to their customers once the government regularizes the web shop industry, according to Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson.
Web shops, including but not limited to Asue Draw, Island Luck, Chances and Paradise Games, offer sports betting for a variety of matches and events such as the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The Gaming Bill permits "domestic players", who are defined as ordinary residents in The Bahamas, permanent residents and work permit holders, to participate in "numbers games" with licensed web shops.
A numbers game is defined as a game made available by the holder of a gaming house operator license "in terms of which any single number or combination of numbers ranging from 000 to 999 may be wagered upon by a player at odds, which are fixed at the time of conclusion of the wager".
Gaming regulations have not yet been made public.
While responding to questions surrounding some web shops expanding their services to include sports betting and in-house financing, Maynard-Gibson said, "Certainly if that is happening, that is certainly something that will undermine the regulatory regime and it will have to be addressed.
"We will have a well-regulated jurisdiction. There is no compromising in that at all."
Maynard-Gibson said she was not aware web shops are facilitating sports betting, but once the government regularizes the industry, those establishments will only be allowed to conduct business in accordance with their business licenses.
A web shop could be granted a gaming house agent license, a gaming house operator license or a gaming house premises license, according to the amended Gambling Bill.
The Nassau Guardian reported in May that some web shops were expanding their range of products after Asue Draw advertised its new branch called "Asue Draw+Spin" on Robinson Road.
Shortly after the revelation, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe suggested the move could be dangerous.
He said web shop operators should have waited until the government started to regularize the industry before expanding.
Wilchcombe was specifically referring to sports betting.
However, he suggested web shop owners are being "prudent businessmen" by trying to "push the envelope".
"But we are not going to be dictated to by what has happened," Wilchcombe said.
"We are going to be dictated to by what is a workable situation for an environment where we are going to have steady growth and development."
As it relates to the in-house financing programs some web shops offer, Prime Minister Perry Christie has said it is that "underground economy" that led him to go against his word on the failed gambling referendum and move to regularize the web shop industry.
The Gaming Bill is expected to be tabled next week.
The Office of the Attorney General sought to block the continued operations of web shops despite an order from Senior Supreme Court Justice Jon Isaacs in January to prevent a shutdown of the businesses, alleges an affidavit filed recently.
The affidavit filed by attorney Claude Hanna of Munroe & Associates said a group of web shop bosses faced significant delays in trying to get business licenses renewed and some owners have still not yet received licenses.
Hanna said the government, through the Business Licence and Evaluation Section of the Ministry of Finance has sought to adversely affect the business of the web shop owners by delaying licenses.
He said this was an attempt to circumvent the conservatory order issued by Justice Isaacs for the businesses to remain in operation pending the outcome of a substantive court challenge.
The owners filed court action after a majority of people who voted in a referendum voted against the regularization and taxation of web shops and the establishment of a national lottery. They contend that their businesses are operating legally.
Justice Isaacs granted the order the morning after Prime Minister Perry Christie ordered an end to web shop gaming.
Hanna said that in the past, the process of issuing licenses involved submitting an application, paying the required fees and the Business Licence Unit would issue the license in a matter of days.
The longest period of delay in the past has been a week, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit said that this year the web shop owners and or their agents were informed by "servants of the Business Licence Unit" that the Office of the Attorney General (the defendant) has advised the Ministry of Finance to put a halt to licenses being issued to web cafes.
According to Hanna, the matter had to be addressed by Chief Finance and Revenue Officer Joseph Mullings, who circulated a minute paper on March 15, 2013 to all staff about the issuance and renewal of business licenses to web shops.
A copy of the minute paper was filed in court.
It said, "Effective immediately, you can issue new and renewal business licenses to web shops. The only license description will be Internet cafe and Internet related services."
According to the affidavit, the process of getting licenses has been "riddled with hurdles".
The affidavit said Pete Deveaux of Percy Web Cafe reported that after submitting the business license application, paying fees in full and satisfying all other requirements, his company was told by Mullings that he could not issue the license because they were awaiting written confirmation from the Office of the Attorney General.
"It was only after insistent calling that [Deveaux] received the business license on March 27," the affidavit said, adding that some of the other plaintiffs also received licenses last week.
"This has represented a delay that in most cases has been at least three to four times the usual delay in the process."
The affidavit said Whatfall and Asue Draw were still awaiting licenses.
It said, "The plaintiffs (web shop owners) have a history of being fully compliant with all laws and regulations governing their businesses."
The affidavit also said that during the general election campaign and during the referendum campaign members of the Free National Movement (FNM) and their bloggers suggested the web shop owners supported only the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
"I am advised by the plaintiffs that it was thereby being suggested that this was done because the PLP had committed to support the plaintiffs," the affidavit said.
"Indeed, much was made during the referendum campaign that the PLP government had a horse in the referendum race."
But the web shop owners have advised that this perception is incorrect, according to the affidavit.
"I am advised that the plaintiffs supported both the PLP and FNM as they always have done," Hanna said.
"If this is disputed they are able to disclose the persons and events together with the amounts that they supported."
The affidavit said the web shop owners met with the government after the general election but are unwilling to disclose the exact contents of these meetings unless it is deemed necessary to do so.
Hanna also said in the affidavit that the need to terminate staff would cause a loss to the plaintiffs "far beyond the financial costs associated with their terminations".
"I am advised by the plaintiffs that they care about the welfare of their employees to the point that they are mentally affected by the prospect of having to terminate persons with whom they have worked closely over the years."
The web shop owners and their attorneys have made an application to have the conservatory order issued by Justice Isaacs extended.
The attorney general is seeking to have that order discharged.
Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett will today hear arguments from both sides.
Wayne Munroe represents Percy Web Cafe, Island Luck, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, Whatfall and Chances.
Former Attorney General Alfred Sears and Jeff Lloyd represent Paradise Games.
Responding to calls for the police to shut down web shop gaming, Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade declared yesterday that no one can tell him how to do his job.
"No one has a right to tell me what date and what time and who and how," said Greenslade at a press conference at Police Headquarters on East Street.
"It can not happen...That is an insult to our intelligence. The Bahamian people must hear me say it can not happen."
However, Greenslade acknowledged that police have an obligation to shut down businesses that are conducting illegal activities.
Greenslade was responding to Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis' criticisms of the government's and police force's "inaction".
Last week, Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett lifted a conservatory order that protected web shops from interference by authorities.
On Sunday, Minnis urged the police to act in light of that ruling.
"We urge a forthright and immediate course of action by the police to obtain search warrants, to close down all illegal gambling and lottery operations, and to confiscate all computer terminals, servers and the ATM machines which are being used to facilitate illegal gambling, and illegal money transfers, whether that gambling takes place in the web shops themselves, or in private homes, so that the law of The Bahamas, the sound and well considered ruling of the chief justice, and the administration of justice generally are not brought into disrepute by what appears to be lame excuses, and no action by the police and the minister of national security," he said.
Prime Minister Perry Christie also responded to Minnis yesterday.
"The government, the prime minister doesn't get involved in enforcing it. The police know what their job must be," said Christie. "... I can't [insert] myself and say 'go and arrest this one; go and arrest that one.' The police officers are well-trained and a well-led organization and this whole thing about the leader of the opposition, you know what he can do -- tell him go have a swim."
Greenslade said the only thing that can hold his feet to the fire is the law.
"The commissioner is bound to the law," he said.
"I will not take instructions from anyone but the law. It's as simple as that. I'm not 'wishy- washy'.
"And that's a general comment to anyone. I'm not going to be disrespectful to anyone over me.
"I've asked my officers to follow my lead. I'm not going to respond or offer my opinions in an arena where I'm not allowed to. That would be disrespectful."
Greenslade acknowledged that the public has a right to comment on and question police action.
"When you offer a comment it's a comment being offered in The Bahamas, which is a country that you claim to love, I love and we all love and when we have destroyed it because of carelessness, there is no way of turning back," he said.
"I don't know if there is any other way that I can put that to you."
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.
The lawyers have appealed Sir Michael's ruling.
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?"
Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson indicated yesterday that the crown was not yet in a position to properly prepare its case in response to a group of web shop owners who received an injunction preventing the government from shutting down their operations.
Senior Supreme Court Justice Jon Isaacs granted the injunction pending the outcome of the substantive matter on the legality of web shops.
Attorneys Wayne Munroe and Alfred Sears, a former attorney general, obtained the injunction on behalf of Island Luck, Island Game, Whatfall, FML Group of Companies, Asue Draw, Paradise Games and Chances.
On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced a shutdown of web shop gaming after voters voted overwhelmingly on Monday against it.
"The status quo remains, so whatever you did yesterday you're able to do today," said Maynard-Gibson when asked about the injunction.
"The referendum and the way that it was held was demonstrative of a very strong democracy.
"The fact that people can go before the courts and feel that their voices can be heard and respect the outcome of a court action is also something we should celebrate as a country.
"I celebrate the fact that we have fair courts that everybody trusts and relies upon."
The matter will be sent to Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett who will either hear it or assign it to another judge.
"We should also say that there were no papers filed before the court, so the other side has articulated their case but they haven't put it in writing yet," Maynard-Gibson said.
"So once the chief justice and we are also are able to read the papers we'll be able to make a better assessment as to what is the way forward."
FML Group of Companies CEO Craig Flowers said last week that if directed by the government he would be the first to close his web shops and send his staff of nearly 400 home with full benefits.
Island Luck CEO Sebas Bastian said Tuesday night he would also follow the prime minister's directive.
With the injunction now secured, the operators can continue operating without any fear that police will shut them down.
It is unclear when the matter will be concluded before the courts.