Truth or myth? Is gambling the surefire money-spinner it’s often billed as? *iStock photo
Truth or myth? Is gambling the surefire money-spinner it’s often billed as? *iStock photo

Debate about a referendum on gambling looks set to be reignited in the coming weeks. And today the Bermuda Sun takes a look at the gamble that is gaming.

Opponents – including environmental group BEST and some churches – have stacked their chips on the ‘no’ side of the table.

But others point to casinos as a sure-fire way of attracting new hotel investment, creating jobs and boosting tourism

Of the three main religious groups on the island, two are taking a neutral stand. But another is backing a ‘no’ vote.

Two biggest churches ‘neutral’ on referendum

Bermuda’s two biggest churches have taken a neutral stand on the referendum on casinos, they revealed yesterday.

Parliament is due to debate the terms of a referendum within the next few weeks of an extended session of Parliament but two of the three largest religious groups have not — as some might have predicted —  come out against a ‘yes’ vote.

Anglican Bishop of Bermuda Nicholas Dill said the island’s largest church had not taken an official position on casinos on the island.

He added he had “no idea” on what the vote would be in a referendum.

But he added: “I would be very intrigued to see what the result would be.”

Catholic Bishop of Hamilton Robert Kurtz, the head of the second-largest faith on the island, declined to speculate on the outcome of a referendum.

But he said: “Our own position, going back to the catechism of the Church, is that gaming is not intrinsically evil.

“I don’t see it as a great moral issue – I see it as an issue that requires prudence on the part of society to protect society from the possible negative effects. He added: “The evil comes from the misuse of it – then it becomes a question of the prudent measures of society or legislators as to how this is regulated to protect people from the ill-effects of gaming.”

They were speaking after some observers said that the still-powerful religious lobby could mobilise enough support to gain a majority against casinos – said by supporters to be vital in attracting new investment and more tourists to the island.

But Rev. Betty Furbert-Woolridge, the Presiding Elder of the AME, said: “It’s in our doctrine and discipline that we do not do gaming and nothing has changed.”

And she added she remained convinced voters would not back casinos in a referendum: “I don’t think the island wants and, from what I understand, even many of the tourists don’t want it. It would spoil the island — it’s just a few people who think it would work, but it’s not working in many other areas.”

But she added – if Parliament failed to make the referendum binding – it could opt to legislate to allow casinos in Bermuda in any case.

The Bermuda Sun asked Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell, who will pilot the referendum bill through the House, if MPs would retain the right to ignore a vote against gaming, but he did not reply by press time.

Premier: Framework is in place

Speaking from Gibraltar, where he is at a meeting of the heads of government of the UK’s Overseas Territories, Premier Craig Cannonier said the extended Parliamentary session was more to do with other legislation than a gaming referendum.

Mr Cannonier said: “This is about continuing to bring jobs to the table and we have some pieces of legislation we would to table. The Minister of Tourism has already said he wants to have a vote on the referendum on gaming.”

But he pointed out that the framework for a referendum was already in place and it was just “a matter of pushing a button.” Mr Cannonier said, however: “It’s about a model and how we see whether or not gaming will fit well and we have to put a model out there. It will take time for people to understand it and make a decision moving forward.”

Peter Everson, who chairs the Chamber of Commerce’s economic committee, said he had no idea which way a referendum would go: “From my perspective, a simple ‘no’ ‘yes’ vote in a referendum is a bit like a popularity contest whereas, for the long term benefit, it’s the details of how it’s to be implemented – when can people gamble, who owns the casinos and whether safety nets are put in place for people who become addicted.”

Mr Everson said that casinos in the western world were mostly struggling to make money in the current climate, with only Singapore, Macau and Las Vegas doing well. And he said: “The result depends on the questions asked and on the motivation for people to actually go and vote.”

Viewpoint / Would a referendum on casino gambling come out for or against?

  • Calvin Dill, 63, taxi driver: ‘I think it would come out against gaming. I don’t think the general public is in favour of it.’
  • Toni D’Amato, 51, executive secretary: ‘I have a feeling it wouldn’t be successful. Bermuda has a long history of being conservative — especially with the religious sector — and that holds true still today.’
  • Karyta Trott-Francis, 21, nursing assistant: ‘I think it would come out for gaming because it would be good for Bermuda.’
  • Janie Nel, 29, consultant: ‘I think it will come out against because it is not a good thing. The poor people will use their money on gambling and end up losing it all.’
  • Leslie Swan, 54, taxi driver: ‘It would be close, but I think the referendum would come back for gaming. Why? Because people understand that gaming is already here with crown and anchor and bingos.’
  • Catherine Hay, 30, lawyer: ‘I have no idea. People are wanting to kick start tourism and I think they’re hopeful that gaming will do that. I don’t know if people will take the step to support it.’