Bishop Ellis: Christians must stand firm against legalized gambling
Royston Jones Jr.
Guardian Staff Reporter
Bishop Neil Ellis of Mount Tabor Full Gospel Baptist Church is urging members of the Christian community to “stand firmly” in opposition to the Christie administration’s planned referendum on illegal gambling and a national lottery, so that “there would not be blood on our hands” if it is ultimately passed.
Ellis was one of several pastors who commented on the referendum promised in the Speech from the Throne read by Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes at the opening of Parliament on Wednesday.
In its Charter for Governance, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) committed to holding that referendum within its first 100 days in office.
Ellis told The Nassau Guardian that while the country might experience some financial gain as a result of regularizing gambling, Bahamian families are likely to suffer in the long run.
He said that in the past, many Bahamian families “lost everything” due to gambling.
He was referring to the Hobby Horse Hall, a horse racing venue where betting was legal decades ago.
“If we vote in favor we may benefit with the country gaining some type of revenue from it but we have people like those a while ago who lose everything and still have to come back to social services and drain the government,” said Ellis.
“You’d effectively be taking revenue in the front door and its goes out the back door. It’s going to be really important for the church community to lay its agenda clearly and concisely on the table so that if this is passed there would not be blood on our hands. But the government in its wisdom wants to bring some resolution to it and I applaud them for it.”
Bishop Reno V. Smith, pastor of Mt. Gilead Union Baptist Church in Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama, told The Guardian that while he was pleased the Christie administration thought it “proper and fitting” to put the issue to the Bahamian people, if the outcome was favorable, players of “games of chance” should not be permitted to be a further burden on the government.
“Should those people lose their houses, their homes, their incomes etc., I don’t think they should be allowed as gamblers to go to the Department of Social Services to be sustained by people like me and others who pay taxes,” Smith said.
“If the people decide that they wish to gamble, then that’s up to them. However, I would like to see all gamblers – players of games [of] chance – to be registered so that they would not be a further burden to the taxpayers of this country.”
The issue has been a prickly one for successive governments, as members of the Christian community have strongly objected to any hint of legalizing gambling for Bahamians.
Christian Council Treasurer Bishop Gregory Minnis of New Jerusalem Kingdom Ministries said that although he believes gambling is wrong from a biblical standpoint, he understood why so many people turned to the industry as a means of “pulling in a dollar” in light of the current state of the economy and unemployment.
“We (Christian Council) are strongly against gambling, but if the people speak and they desire for it then we as the church will have to say to our people to be mindful of how you accomplish your goals now, and how you accomplished all that you have before gambling came in,” Minnis said.
He also said that a national lottery would promote organized crime if it were not implemented properly by the government, and could further criminal activity in the country.
He added that the Christian community would be called upon to make its position “resoundingly” clear, and said he believes more people are opposed to legalizing gambling than are those who support it.
May 25, 2012