November 05, 2012
COMMUNICATION BY THE RT. HON. PERRY G. CHRISTIE PRIME MINISTER AND MEMBER FOR CENTRVILLE RE : REFERENDUM ON WEB SHOP GAMING
Dated: November 1st, 2012
The Bahamian people are aware from previous public pronouncements made by me, including my Communication to this Honourable House on the 8th August, that it has always been the intention of my Government to proceed with a national referendum on the subject of so-called web-café or web shop gaming after the bye-election in North Abaco would have run its course.
Now that we have indeed passed that milestone, I am pleased to announce that a national referendum will indeed be held on 3rd December, 2012.
The referendum will put to the Bahamian people the question as to whether they feel that so-called “web café” or "web shop" gaming should be legalized subject to strict licensing and bonding requirements, stringent regulatory supervision, and the payment by licensed operators of substantial licence fees and taxes, the proceeds of which would be primarily used to help fund educational scholarships, athletic and sporting development, the development of music and the arts including junkanoo, and a broad range of essential community, health, infrastructural, recreational and social outreach facilities and programmes, both public and private, throughout The Bahamas.
The precise phraseology of the question that will be put to the electorate in the referendum will be announced well ahead of the referendum itself.
I would like to make it clear, however, that the only question that will be asked in the referendum will relate to web café or web shop gaming. (Note : I will hereafter in this communication use the term “web shop” gaming to describe both).
Based on the considered advice of the Government’s UK-based, international specialist consultants, it is no longer considered that a national lottery would be commercially viable at this time. Thus, lotteries will continue to be illegal for the indefinite future unless, of course, certificates of exemption are issued from time to time under the Lotteries & Gaming Act, as indeed has been the historical practice for special, single-event purposes considered worthy by the competent authority, such as church bazaar raffles and the like.
Similarly, neither the extension of casino gambling nor the removal of the prohibition on casino gambling by Bahamian citizens and residents will be the subject of the forthcoming referendum. Thus, the conduct of casino gambling will continue to be unlawful for the indefinite future unless a Casino Licence is issued in accordance with the Lotteries & Gaming Act – and I hasten to add that no additional Casino Licences are contemplated at this time.
To be completely clear, therefore, the forthcoming referendum will focus only on web shop gaming.
It will be recalled from my earlier Communication on this matter that I addressed various matters of public interest pertinent to the forthcoming referendum. I would like at this time to re-iterate what I said in that Communication insofar as it continues to be relevant. After that, I will close out this present communication by addressing in broad terms the way forward after the referendum would have been held, depending on whether the Bahamian electorates votes YES or NO.
Firstly, I re-iterate that my Government and Party will maintain a position of complete neutrality on the referendum question. We will not campaign for or against either side to the question, nor will we offer any encouragement for either a YES vote or a NO vote. We are going to stay out of the fray and let the Bahamian people decide what they want without any cajoling or coaxing one way or the other.
Secondly, I repeat what was also said in my previous communication concerning the balloting process for the referendum, namely, that each voter will be handed a ballot paper upon which he will mark an ‘X’ in either the YES box or the NO box, using the pencil provided. This marking will be done in the usual secrecy of the voter’s booth. Just as is done in a regular election, the voter will then fold his ballot paper and drop it in the ballot box provided. At the end of the balloting process, when the polls close, all the ballots will be counted at each polling place and the results will be publicly declared.
In all essential respects, the same machinery that apples to general elections will apply to the referendum, with the exception, of course, that voters will not be voting for any candidate. Instead, they will be voting on the specific referendum question, YES or No.
Further, unlike a General Election where each voter casts his or her ballot for the candidate of his or her choice in the constituency in which the voter ordinarily resides, the referendum will not be constituency-based at all. Instead, voters will be choosing to either answer YES or NO to the same one question that voters all over the country will be asking.
As to eligibility to vote in the referendum, the same persons who were eligible to vote in the last General Election, whether they did so or not, will be eligible to vote in the referendum as well. There will be no need to register again.
As for persons who were not registered to vote in the last General Election but who may wish to vote in the referendum, they, too, will be able to vote in the referendum provided that they register at least 10 days prior to the date fixed for the referendum. This is specifically provided for in the Constitutional Referendum Act.
The Parliamentary Commissioner’s Office will be making public announcements in due course as the registration of new voters, the location of the polling places that will be set up to accommodate voters in the referendum, and, of course, announcements as to the other procedural matters required in connection with the holding of a referendum.
I turn now to address the question of what will happen after the referendum, depending on whether the “YES” votes or the “NO” votes carry the majority.
IF THE PEOPLE VOTE YES: In the event that the referendum question passes and the Bahamian people vote YES, the Bahamian people would thereby have given the Government a clear mandate to proceed with the necessary legislation for the legalization, licensing, regulation, and taxation of web cafes or web shops.
I hasten to add, however, that not all existing web shops would be legalized. Instead, it would only be those that are duly licensed in due course.
In this regard, I wish to make it clear that in the event that the referendum question passes, it would be the policy of my Government to limit web shop licences to a small number. This would also help ensure that the regulatory infrastructure of the Gaming Board – which I confirm would be the regulator of the licensed web shops - is up to the task of adequately monitoring and regulating web shop operations.
I also need to make it clear that all unlicensed operators of web shops would be closed down and their owners and operators prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
In order to qualify for a web shop licence, applicants would have to meet stringent criteria, including possessing the necessary experience, integrity and expertise, as well as possessing the necessary financial resources, and having the organizational capacity and internal controls needed to operate in an efficient, responsible and transparent manner.
A license fee, in an amount to be determined - but certainly not less than One Million dollars - coupled with a performance bond, would be required to be put up upon the award of a licence. This would be in addition to the annual taxes that would be payable, based on the revenues of the licensed web shops, similar to the taxation structure that applies to casinos.
In addition to paying such licence fees and taxes, web shops would also be required to contribute to the cost of implementing the new laws and regulations for web shops.
Licensees would also be required, as a condition of their licences, to introduce and maintain, at their own expense, programmes to help protect players from gambling addiction and to help in the treatment and rehabilitation of such persons, including ensuring, as far as practicable, that they are barred from accessing web shops in the future.
Similarly, licensees would be required to institute and maintain measures, approved of by the Gaming Board, to ensure that as far as practicable persons who are not of legal age are denied access to web shops.
In a further effort to protect customers, web shops would also be restricted to offering games obtained from suppliers approved by the Gaming Board to ensure that the games are fair. The Gaming Board would act as an impartial arbitrator of any unresolved complaints against licenced web shops. Both parties to a dispute would also have the ultimate right to appeal to the courts.
Like the casinos, licenced web shops would be subject to stringent regulation by The Gaming Board, not only to better promote fairness but also to ensure that national and international anti-money laundering standards are scrupulously adhered to in practice. This is a matter of the first importance.
Accordingly, in the event that web café gaming is approved in the referendum, great care will be taken to adapt the existing raft of anti-money laundering regulations in our country in a way that would ensure the effective monitoring, control and suppression of money-laundering in all its myriad forms in relation to web shop operations. We simply cannot afford to compromise, or put at risk, the hard-won standing we have achieved in the global financial services community.
Our commitment to the most rigourous anti-money laundering regime possible will therefore be resolute and unbending in relation to web shop gaming. Moreover, let there be no mistake about it : web shop operators who are shown to be engaged in money-laudering will not only be criminally prosecuted, they will lose their licenses as well, and will be shut down. If licensed web shop gaming becomes a reality, it is anticipated that tax revenues would initially be in the $15 - $20 million range per annum.
As I have already indicated, these revenues would be earmarked for use in helping to fund educational scholarships, athletic and sporting development, the development of music and the arts, including junkanoo, and a broad range of essential community, health, infrastructural, recreational and social outreach facilities and programmes, both public and private, throughout The Bahamas.
IF THE PEOPLE VOTE NO All of what I have just outlined will, of course, come to nothing if the Bahamian people vote NO in the referendum. In that event, the Government will act in furtherance of the expressed will of the electorate and take all necessary steps to ensure that our gaming laws are enforced, and that the transgressors of those laws are dealt with in full accordance with those laws.
I close by assuring you and honourable members that further announcements on this subject will be made as future events may warrant.
PERRY G. CHRISTIE PRIME MINISTER