Wednesday March 19,2014 : BAHAMA DITHERS ON WEB BETTING SHOPS
New developments suggest that the government may go against referendum results.
The Bahamas government continues to dither on the issue of whether to legalise and tax the currently illegal web shops (informal outlets that facilitate betting on US lotteries) and the establishment of a national lottery.
Back in 2012 the Progressive Liberal Party won the national elections and took power, and early in the following year the new government launched a national referendum on two questions:
* Should web shops be legalised and taxed (a move prime minister Perry Christie supported, saying that it could generate an additional $20 million in tax revenues) and
* Should a national lottery be established for the Bahamas?
The electorate returned very clear preferences – 60 percent against legalising web shops and 59 percent against the establishment of a national lottery.
Government and the local police reacted by declaring an intention to clamp down on the illegal activity, whilst the web shop operators went on the offensive with an appeal to the Supreme Court that they be permitted to continue operating.
The issue appeared to reach a stalemate at that point, as there does not seem to be any record of police or other enforcement moves to physically shut down the web shops.
However, earlier this month the government minister for tourism triggered what seems to be a volte face on the issue, revealing that, despite the results of the referendum, he planned to take a proposal to Cabinet that web shops be legalised, regulated and taxed.
Surprisingly in view of his earlier commitments to clamp down on the activity, the prime minister came forward in support of the initiative, justifying his change of position by commenting:
“Having vast amounts of money circulating otherwise than through the banking system, the negative impact of money laundering and possibly having large cash transfers outside the country without exchange control approval and other proper clearances, could pose serious problems and result in blacklisting of the Bahamas.”
The sudden switch in government policy, and progress in this new direction with its wider implications will no doubt be closely watched.