With signature-gathering for the petition pushing for a ballot initiative on casino gaming gaining momentum, Opposition Leader Marc Bean says he still supports having a referendum on the matter.

“We support the citizens’ right to exercise their democratic right,” he told the Bermuda Sun yesterday.

An estimated 2,500 people have signed in support of the initiative since the petition was launched on January 9. The goal is to exceed at least 4,000 signatures.

“The cross-section of people who initiated the petition, speaks volumes,” Mr Bean said. “There are people who voted for the PLP, people who voted for the OBA and those who abstained, who are all concerned [about this issue],” he said. 

“I’m a proponent of gaming but that doesn’t mean we have to run roughshod over people’s rights. If you are so confident — 70 per cent in favour according to a poll — why did you have to stack the question and remove the referendum?”

Jonathan Starling, one of the activists behind the petition, welcomed Mr Bean’s comments yesterday, noting both parties promised a casino gambling referendum during the 2012 election.

“Ultimately, this issue is about democracy and the precedents that are being set by the OBA abandoning their commitment to holding a referendum on this issue,” Mr Starling told us in a statement. “A referendum, using an unbiased question, provides a clear answer on the issue of casino gambling — and the money has already been set aside for it and cannot be used for anything other than a referendum.”

Mr Starling continued: “As [Tourism Minister] Shawn Crockwell stated earlier this month, ‘democracy is never a waste of time’, so I am personally pleased that the Opposition Leader has recognised this also and added his voice to the need for the government to return to its commitment to democracy, of deciding the issue of casino gambling by the promised referendum.”  

Last month, the OBA said gaming legislation would be brought to the legislature without a referendum, in a move that represented an about-face by the party.