The Freeport in the Bahamas was the scene of some anti-gambling raids and arrests last week as local police moved on companies that they alleged were in breach of the Lottery and Gaming Act and in possession of slot machines, thus operating gambling activities under the guise of legitimate freeport businesses. Gambling related charges were subsequently laid in the magistrates court.
Local newspaper The Nassau Guardian reported that the action, dubbed ‘Operation Tsunami' by the police, resulted in an outcry from the Bahamas Gaming Reform (BGR) committee, who said it was "a mockery of justice" under the current gaming laws, and claimed that such situations make it necessary for government to move ahead with legislative reforms.
In court most of those arrested pleaded not guilty and were granted bail until full hearings scheduled for late April and early May.
In a subsequent statement on the matter, BGR Chairman Sidney Strachan cited the arrests as the most recent example of antiquated laws and government ineptness.
"Virtually every modern democracy allows its citizens to game within a regulated framework," Strachan said. "Governments around the world have learned through bitter experience that the inclination to game is universally strong. If persons are unable to pursue gaming interests through legal, regulated means they will do so illegally. The end result is lost revenue and with it problematic limitations in social, educational and developmental programming and initiatives.
"This is exactly what is happening in The Bahamas. It's nothing short of scandalous and a blatant example of government ineptness and backward thinking."
Strachan said BGR is calling for the government to move forward with legislative reform and the establishment of a national regulated gaming program. Additionally, he said the committee is recommending that modern responsible gaming methods and technologies be adopted to afford Bahamians all practical means of minimising personal risk and impulsive play.
According to the committee, US $15–$20 million in gaming revenue is being lost to government by virtue of its intransigence in reforming current laws. Important social, educational and economic initiatives are underfunded as a consequence at the expense of Bahamians. And important new employment opportunities are being lost at a time of particularly strong need.
Responding to criticisms levelled at the police for their actions in raiding selected Freeport premises, Senior Assistant Commissioner Marvin Dames said the force is mandated to ensure that citizens comply with the laws of the land.
"[Gambling] is still on the laws of The Bahamas as an offense, so we're not being prejudiced here, we're enforcing the laws of the land and it's as simple as that," he said. "What we are asking citizens to do is to abide by the laws of the land."
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