Rich man, poor man: No prizes for guessing who’ll win and who’ll lose if and when we embrace 
casinos in Bermuda. *Illustration by Gary Foster Skelton
Rich man, poor man: No prizes for guessing who’ll win and who’ll lose if and when we embrace casinos in Bermuda. *Illustration by Gary Foster Skelton

‘Button, Button’ was a segment in a 1980s episode of the sci-fi/fantasy television series ‘The Twilight Zone’. The plot, based on a short story by Richard Matheson, begins as follows:

A couple, Arthur and Norma Lewis, are descending into poverty. One day, they receive a box containing a button, and a stranger appears and tells them that if they press the button, two things will happen: they will receive $200,000, and someone “whom you don’t know” will die…

When Singapore legalized casino gambling in 2005, the National Council on Problem Gambling was set up alongside the law.

Why? Because there is nowhere on Earth where a casino has been opened that has not seen some level of social damage. The Internet is at hand — I challenge readers to pick a location where a casino has sprung up successfully, and to show that no person or family has been damaged by its existence within two years of opening. It will happen; it is inevitable.

Someone who develops a gambling problem will commit crimes to enable themselves to gamble. No ‘social safeguard’ has stopped it from happening elsewhere, nor can one stop it here. 

When we humans develop an obsession, we find creative ways of enabling our indulgence: Here in Bermuda, the recent case of David Robinson using his brother’s credit card to place bets. In Singapore, shortly after Resort World Sentosa opened in 2010, Loo Siew Wan was charged with impersonation after stealing his brother’s driving licence to enter the casino. Also in Singapore, Paulus Djohar was jailed for theft after losing all his money at the casino. It will happen; it is inevitable.

One might argue that, in the same way that casinos guarantee problem gambling, pubs and bars guarantee alcoholism. Even if that were true, there is a fundamental difference. Pubs and bars are primarily social environments and if you remove alcoholism, they will still operate successfully. The foundation of a casino is greed; the greed of the owner, and the greed of the punter. If you remove greed, casinos cannot operate. No one would build one or go to one, and folks who simply enjoy poker and roulette would play for matches at the local bar.

There is, of course, truth in the hyperbole and propaganda we have been fed on the ‘positive’ aspect of bringing in casinos; they almost certainly will, in some way, bring in money and help the economy. Jobs within the casinos themselves are unlikely to be glamorous or highly paid, but the existence of casino gambling may attract tourism investment and hoteliers, and therefore more jobs — such as entertainment roles for singers like myself — may become available through an expanded tourism environment. 

But let us be clear on one truth: the people who will make the most money out of casinos will be the people who already have money. It will be the John Swans and the Ewart Browns, the Alexander and Andrew Greens, who already have their fingers in the right pies, have stakes in the right companies and rub the right shoulders… they are the sort of Bermudians most likely to gain the most financially rather than the general public. The largest sums will remain in the fewest hands.

More tellingly, to have casinos we must take the attitude that we are willing to sacrifice a few of our brothers or sisters for an overall economic gain. With this in mind, I can understand Government’s refusal to have a referendum on casino gaming. It would bewilder me if, on an island with so many churches, the majority were not determined to be their brothers’ keeper. It would astound me if, in a place where the echoes of slavery can be heard, the majority would choose economic gain that is built on the backs of others. This is not the way a family works; in a family, we all go home or nobody goes home.

Push the button?

The aforementioned Twilight Zone story ended as follows: Desperate and struggling financially, Norma Lewis eventually pushes the button despite her husband Arthur’s doubts. The stranger returns to retrieve the box, and gives them $200,000. He then tells the Lewises that the box will be reprogrammed and offered to someone else under the same terms. Focusing on a horrified Norma, he assures her that it will be someone “whom you don’t know”…

I believe that which is sown will, eventually, be reaped. I wonder how a member of this government will feel if one of those who inevitably succumbs to problem gambling and its consequences turns out to be someone close to them. Call me an alarmist if you wish… just be sure to call me again if it’s your parent/sibling/child who falls.

If an ‘integrated resort’ or casino is indeed opened here, someone, possibly someone “whom you don’t know”, will die as a result, whether financially, socially, or even physically.
Will you push the button? 

Gary Foster Skelton is the Bermuda Sun’s Photo & Video Editor