Restricted: Only visitors are allowed to gamble in the Bahamas — a rule underscored by a referendum earlier this year. *Creative commons photo by jonworth
Restricted: Only visitors are allowed to gamble in the Bahamas — a rule underscored by a referendum earlier this year. *Creative commons photo by jonworth

The Bahamian government this year held a referendum on allowing gambling outside of resorts where only visitors can spend their cash.

The move came after the widespread growth of “web shops” — illegal but tolerated establishments where Bahamians and residents could gamble on US lotteries and numbers games.

The referendum was expected to register a yes vote — but churches mobilised the vote to defeat the measure, although turnout was just 45 per cent.

Voters also rejected a separate proposal to introduce a UK-style national lottery.

The low turnout reflected similar indifference to referendums across the world, which generally fail to match the numbers expected for General Elections – often registering barely more than 50 per cent of eligible voters.

Tax income

It was argued in the Bahamas that the web shops, or numbers houses, accounted for around two per cent of the workforce and represented a potential tax income that could boost government coffers.

The Bahamas, however, legalised resort gambling in 1969, while it was still a British colony.

But the government of the day banned Bahamians and residents from the casinos, a ban that has remained in force.

The Paradise Island resort has become the largest private sector employer in the island chain.

Referendums have a varied history.    

In 1995, Bermuda voted heavily against independence, but turnout was less than 59 per cent, although the Opposition PLP had previously called for a boycott.

The only other referendum held on the island was when voters backed nearly four to one the retention of the death penalty. But turnout was just 33 per cent.

In a 2001 lottery in the province of New Brunswick, voters narrowly approved the retention of video lottery terminals – although just 44 per cent of eligible voters took part.

In 1975, a UK referendum on whether the country should remain part of what was to become the EU attracted a 65.5 per cent turnout. The 1997 Scottish referendum on whether Scotland should have a devolved Parliament had a turnout of just over 60 per cent.