Wednesday, August 8, 2012

To gamble or not to gamble: it now stands, gambling, although illegal for Bahamians, is now so prevalent ...and has been for so many years, that to let it flourish while continuing the debate whether it should be outlawed making a fool of the law

The Devil Has Had It Too Long, Turn It To Good

 Tribune242 Editorial

TO GAMBLE or not to gamble — that is the question. In the Bahamas today it is a question that has already been answered by a large number of Bahamians without need of a referendum.

A referendum has only become necessary because of government’s desire to avoid a clash with the churches, particularly the strong Baptist vote, which itself is now divided. Government wants the bitter chalice of who decides on legalisation to pass to the “Voice of the People” – hence the referendum.

As Minister Lavern Turner, whose letter is published on this page today, points out gambling has “grown from the number man to the web shop.” Now that people can gamble on the web, gambling cannot be stopped, he wrote.

“The permission was already given,” he said, “when the web shop obtained a licence, paid National Insurance and hired workers. The people already have the legal right and it should not be taken from them.”

We also agree with the reverend gentleman that now is not the time to open casino doors to Bahamians. The minister pointed out the seriousness of the economic downturn and the hundreds of Bahamians without jobs – “light bills, water bills, rent, mortgages, school uniforms and fees, education, food, car upkeep and other more important responsibilities take priority over casino gambling. Entertainment at that level can wait!” he said.

It is true, gambling does reduce the moral fibre of a community by making people believe that by the throw of the dice they can get something for nothing; it can destroy families, and turn a pathological gambler into a destitute human wreck. A gambler never learns that the odds are stacked in favour of the house, never for him. In the end he is the loser.

The Tribune was against the introduction of betting at Hobby Horse Hall many years ago because of the harm it did to the family unit. It was the late Nurse Alice Hill-Jones, who came to The Tribune to report that whenever Hobby Horse Hall was in season and betting was in full swing, babies arriving at the government clinics were undernourished — their milk money was going to the race track. The fathers were spending their meagre wages every Friday afternoon betting on the trifecta.

Today the government has no choice but to legalise gambling. The people have already spoken. Already the numbers and the web shops have defied the police. No sooner are they closed than they are open again. If gambling is denied, then everything has to close. And the gambling houses have shown they plan to go nowhere without a fight.

It was the same story with alcohol. Prohibition became so dangerous that in the end alcohol had to be legalised. This did not mean that alcohol was beneficial, in many ways its abuse does more harm to the human body than many of the drugs that are still illegal. However, alcohol is now within the law. Gone are the smuggling days when much of the alcohol was contaminated, leaving people, if not dead, then blind.

The religious can find the answer to their quandary in the soliloquy of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov where the pros and cons of God’s gift of free will is argued. Many condemned such a gift believing it too great a responsibility for weak man. Others saw it as a great gift enabling each human being to accept or reject morality, and to individually decide whether to follow good or evil. God’s gift of free will was to the individual, not to his pastor. The most that a pastor can do is to advise his flock and try to lead them on what he considers the right path — even going after the one who strays. But that is the limit of his responsibility. The final exercise of free will is for the individual. If the individual strays — as suggests pastor Turner in his letter – the “responsibility to deliver them belongs to the Holy Spirit, so take the load off your head, their blood is not on your hands…” A good bit of advice. Each person is judged individually by the extent of his knowledge and the exercise of his own free will in making a final decision based on that knowledge.

Ministers who are against gambling are only responsible for their own congregations — and only so far as they can guide the free will of their members. However, they have no right to even consider trying to impose their beliefs and will on a nation. Each man has his own beliefs.

Of course, there will be laws and if an individual’s free will leads him down the wrong path, then the law will be there to punish him.

But as it now stands, gambling, although illegal, is now so prevalent and has been for so many years, that to let it flourish while continuing the debate whether it should be outlawed is making a fool of the law.

Either make it legal and control it, or declare it illegal and shut it down.

In our opinion the added expense of a referendum is not necessary — it’s just an easy way out enabling government to avoid the wrath of religious ministers and the loss of the Baptist vote at election time.

Those who believe that gambling is evil and against their religious beliefs won’t gamble, and those who see nothing wrong with it will continue as they are doing now. The only difference is that the government will tax their foolishness.

As one religious minister once said: “Give me the money so that I can put it to good use — it’s been in the devil’s hands too long!”

August 07, 2012