I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the outcome
of this referendum on web-shops and a national lottery accurately. For
most, it seemed an easy win for the “Vote Yes” campaign, given
its attempt to drown the opposition in its considerable resources. Those
who predicted a loss for number-bosses could not have anticipate how
handily both questions were voted down. Before arguing the why of this
embarrassing defeat for both the fairly new Progressive Liberal Party
(PLP) government and the well-funded “Vote Yes” campaign, lets look
at the what -- what happened last night?
At press time the Tribune reported that a little over
40,000 votes were cast. This represented less than 50% of registered
voters and at some polling stations voter turn out was as low as 30%.
Today, ZNS News is reporting that over 70,000 voters participated in
the referendum in total.
Stephen Aranha, Chair of the School of Social Science
and Professor of History at the College of the Bahamas, through his
twitter account (@sbaranha), did some quick calculations using these
latest numbers. The 71,000 voters who turned out for this referendum
represented only 41% of registered voters and 30% of voting age Bahamians.
The regularization of web-shop gaming was opposed by 61.8% of the 41%
of registered voters casting ballots, while the establishment of a national
lottery was rejected by 58.7%.
To put things into perspective, the opposition to legalizing
web-shops and establishing a national lottery represents a fraction
of the electorate. If the voting register has remained relatively the
same since the 2012 general election there are 172,000 registered voters
in the Bahamas. Only 27% of registered voters opposed the legalizing
of web-shops and smaller still, only 23% of registered voters opposed
the establishment of a national lottery. The real story here is how
small the “No Vote” campaign’s voting bloc was and the reality
of poor voter turn out.
As I listen to the media make sense of yesterdays results,
I’m admittedly disappointed but not surprised. Many have reduced this
entire event to a battle between the church and the numbers bosses,
with the church slaying their giant opponent. Pundits are also missing
the real story. Yes, the church led the “Vote No” campaign but this
victory isn’t theirs.
What we know about social issue campaigns is that those
who feel most strongly about the issue at hand are more likely to turn
out to vote, while those who feel they have no real interest typically
stay at home. The last 20 years is replete with examples of this, whether
we refer to the conservative Christian right in the United States organizing
ballot initiatives around denying gays and lesbians the right to marry
or pro-lifers hoping to limit the scope of Roe vs. Wade. Christians
who felt a moral obligation to arrest the legalizing of gaming turned
out to vote but they represent only a small fraction of the total electorate.
Furthermore, it would ridiculous to conclude that everyone who voted
no did so because of their religious belief.
The truth is that the government gave Bahamians more
than enough reasons to vote no or, as the numbers suggest, not vote
at all. I want people
to come to terms with the fact that many of those who opposed both questions
did so not because of the church, but because they were discouraged,
and even offended, by the way the government brought this issue to the
people. What is most lamentable about the post-referendum punditry is
that I think the anger of the Bahamian people is being lost in a discourse
about the influence of the church, where the numbers do not reflect
this narrative as accurate.
my opinion, people may have been more likely to vote yes, and more importantly,
show up to the polls, if they were voting on ownership opportunities
for all Bahamians in a regulated local gaming sector, as well as for
casinos. Instead we were only given the option to remain consumers in
the numbers industry, while the government worked to close off competition
by making it clear they were limiting the granting of gaming license
to only a select few -- those who could ante up a million dollar bond
and who had previous experience in a presently illegal industry.
think Bahamians would have reacted positively to the chance to end the
legal discrimination allowed by our constitution and made real by the
Lotteries and Gaming act. The combination of these two pieces of legislation
not only restrict the movement of Bahamians by prohibiting their participation
in casino gambling but also forecloses on Bahamian’s ability to own
a major sources of revenue in their own country.
would argue that Bahamians would’ve certainly felt more inclined to
vote if the government mounted a campaign of education as they promised
at the start of this long, arduous process.
How do you expect people to vote on the legalizing
of “web-shops” when no one could define, in legal terms, what web-shops are? Why
was the College of the Bahamas not engaged by the government to conduct
research on the social, psychological and economic effects of gaming in the Bahamas?
Why was there no audit of an industry that has operated outside of the
boundaries of law so that the Bahamian people could have a detailed
and accurate picture of what exactly they were being asked to legalize?
Where was the proposed legislation for voters to preview so that we
knew what to expect after an affirmative vote? These were questions
all posed publicly by various Bahamians but were left unanswered.
may have been more willing to vote for a national lottery if they had
information on how it would operate, who would be in charge of its operation
and if these people could be trusted to take on this task.
a bloated deficit, failed public projects, and an ever-growing list
of scandals, confidence in the Bahamian government is at an all time
low. Could we trust the government to establish a national lottery,
especially when they didn’t want to consider it at first and when
they have the nerve to appoint a chairman to a government corporation
that allegedly owes that very same corporation hundreds of thousands
of dollars? This certainly doesn’t inspire faith in the political
powers that be.
If the outcome of the 2012 general election was an indictment of the
Ingraham administration, I think this referendum is similarly
a challenge to the leadership of Perry Christie. The action of voters,
and particularly those who abstained from voting, were symptomatic of
a complete lack of confidence in how this referendum was brought to
Of course, there are those who are arguing that the
Bahamian people did not make the right choice by defeating this referendum
-- they let the good become the enemy of the perfect. Some suggest that
I am giving the Bahamian electorate to much credit by arguing that people
wanted more information or a less “awkward” process. Bahamians,
for example, vote for the same parties every year, switching one out
for the other when neither has fulfilled its obligation to the citizenry.
The problem I have with these conclusions revolve around
the notions of “choice” and “the good.” Really, what were our
choices in this referendum? Vote for an industry many of us know nothing
about only to have the government restrict who gets a “piece of the
pie”? Where was the good? Saving the jobs of 4,000 web-shop workers
despite this number being called into question by those who’ve calculated
the income of workers based on the reported payroll?
If, as Prime Minister Christie claimed in
his communication to parliament on November 14, 2012, web-shops
payrolls amount to $15 million this would mean that web-shop workers
were making only $3,750 a year or a little over $72 a week. Are we supposed
to believe this?
It is also important to point out that this was not
a general election. People have connections with their parties that
are familial, emotional and social and these ties influence their voting
patterns. In this instance, the most salient connections people had
to the issue of gaming were either their religious beliefs or their
belief in equal rights for Bahamians. The latter was swept away by the
government’s refusal to address the issues of discrimination and ownership,
subsuming that voting bloc’s interests in a sea of garbled messaging
and blatant evasiveness.
Sure, I want black Bahamians to be industry leaders,
to have a chance at creating wealth through ownership and to engage
in the same entertainment tourist come to our country to experience.
What I don’t want is to be lied to, mislead and coerced into voting
by the threat of losing 3,000 jobs that may not even exist. Let’s
place the blame where it truly belongs -- squarely at the feet of the
I have argued for sometime now that the discourse around
this referendum was tragically limited to a “yes” or “no” vote.
Instead, I want to suggest that what arises out of this experience are
questions about government authority and competence, freedom of information,
the influence of special interests and the desire of the Bahamian people
to be heard.
You may believe that the Bahamian electorate is less
than intelligent but in every conversation I’ve had, every panel I’ve
participated in and every radio show I’ve visited, one thing seems
clear for me: the frustration of the Bahamian people is palpable. For
once, I think we wanted to believe that the government would represent
our interests -- that they would do what was right for us -- and they
failed. Unfortunately, that is the real story.
Joey Gaskins is
a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was
born in Grand Bahama Island, studied at the London
School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he attained
his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and has begun a
Doctoral Degree in Sociology. Joey lives in Nassau and is a part-time lecturer at College of the Bahamas. He also writes for
and The Tribune.
You can reach him at