*iStock photo
*iStock photo

In a high stakes showdown, Government had an ace up its sleeve with the upcoming gambling referendum — it got to decide the question.

But ‘Do you favour the introduction of regulated casino gaming for the purposes of creating new jobs for Bermudians and encouraging hotel development?’ has been branded a “loaded’” question by people on both sides of the political divide.

And while many believe that gaming will spur hotel development and boost jobs, they do not believe it should have been part of question. 

Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell declined to comment other than saying through a spokesperson he stands behind the question. 

Ronnie Viera, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber is on record as not being in favour of a referendum. But speaking to us on a personal basis rather than on behalf of the Chamber, he said: “The question is most certainly loaded and it is going to be difficult for people to object and say ‘no’. Who is not going to support new jobs?”

Cordell Riley, former Government statistician and owner of Profiles of Bermuda, said it is “a totally (mis)leading question. Firstly, the word ‘regulated’ does not have to be in there at all. To add jobs to the question is really an attempt to skew the results. Just ask Bermudians ‘should more jobs be created’ and estimate what the response would be. 

“It is poorly worded and I’m surprised that it reached the floor of the House of Assembly in that form. I suspect that it will be amended for fairness and transparency.”

PLP Senator Diallo Rabain posted on Facebook: “Should a referendum question be worded in such a way that predicts the outcome of a positive vote? What happened to just laying the facts out, asking a non-weighted question and allow people to decide? As a disclaimer, I am not saying gambling will not encourage hotel development and by extension new jobs; however, fair is fair and right is right.

“Imagine the rancour if a non-pro-gambling government worded the question like this: ‘Do you favour  the introduction of casino gaming irrelevant of the social problems it may bring?’

Senator Rabain pointed to the wording the PLP were going to use if they had brought forth a gambling referendum: ‘Should there be licensed casino gaming in Bermuda?’

Political commentator and former independent political candidate Jonathan Starling posted on the open Facebook group Bermuda Election 2012: “How is such a loaded question even allowed? Is there any way to appeal that and get a more neutral question? That is totally leading.”

Shocking

Mr Starling intends to campaign for a ‘no’ vote in the referendum: “Our people are so desperate after consecutive years of economic pain that there is a high likelihood of a pro-gambling vote winning. Which makes it all the more shocking to me that the OBA would feel it necessary to resort to such an underhanded and loaded question for the referendum. I already have an issue with the underhanded Orwellian way that ‘gambling’ is being dressed up with seemingly positive connotations as ‘gaming’ — a much more innocent-sounding term which obscures the reality of gambling.

“Was it really necessary however to add the ‘for the purposes of…etc’ part? This is a loaded question if I ever saw one, and I find it shocking that OBA felt it necessary to use such a tactic. I don’t know if this is a shambolic episode or an expression of desperation on their part.”

Former OBA political candidate Peter Barrett posted on Facebook: “I will be voting ‘yes’ because the introduction of regulated gaming will bring jobs and investment into Bermuda. The best social programme is a job. And we can ill-tolerate the unemployment, which has beset Bermuda in recent times.”

The referendum is expected to take place within the first three months of 2014.