The parliamentary vote on gambling is not so simple
There has been much discussion on the upcoming referendum on the legalization of the numbers industry in The Bahamas. The industry has let it be known that it will spend $1.5 million on advertising for its cause. The church has responded with vocal opposition to any further legalization of a practice it views as harmful to Bahamians.
A vote, however, by the people to legalize the numbers industry will actually not legalize lottery gambling for Bahamians and legal residents. The Parliament would have to pass legislation amending our gaming laws.
In the Westminster parliamentary system votes on matters of conscience are usually free votes – that is, the party whips are removed and members vote their consciences without fear of party discipline for making a particular choice. When the whip is on a member who votes against the party’s position could be expelled from that political party.
Assuming that there would be a free vote in Parliament on the issue of legalizing lottery gambling, it is unclear how the members would vote. Some are practicing Christians and would not vote for gambling despite what their party leaders say. Some members might also abstain from voting, fearing taking a public stance on such a contentious issue. Such a scenario would put the will of the people up against the beliefs of the elected member of the legislature.
Therefore, there will be two fights in order for the lottery business to be legalized: one fight to win the referendum and the other to influence the MPs.
The church will have an advantage with the MPs. MPs do not like to disappoint pastors and the church of Christ in The Bahamas. A strong lobby on members by their respective pastors will be effective in getting at least a few MPs to vote no.
No MP wants to be named by the church as its opponent, pursuing an order against God. What has for a long time prevented a referendum is the fear by our leaders of crossing the church.
Our politicians think a referendum will allow the people to choose and they will not have to be responsible for legalizing numbers, because it would be the people who make that choice. But we all have forgotten that at the end of the day the MPs will have to do the deed.
Another scenario could emerge, however. If the people vote overwhelmingly to legalize numbers the governing party and opposition could keep the whips on and force through the amendments making lotteries legal.
Much is unclear about what will happen with the proposed referendum and the vote in Parliament if the people say yes to the numbers game. The governing party must chart carefully so it does not get in trouble with the process as the last government did during the referendum of 2002.