The way forward: MP Terry Lister said MPs should pass a bill and then put it to a vote via referendum.  *iStock photo
The way forward: MP Terry Lister said MPs should pass a bill and then put it to a vote via referendum. *iStock photo

A former Government minister has come up with a novel approach to the gaming issue.

Terry Lister champions a different chronology to that proposed by the ruling OBA and says MPs should pass a bill — and then put the matter to the vote via a referendum. 

The Independent MP for Sandy’s South says politicians should let the people have the final say.

Mr Lister wants the political debate to take place before a Referendum Bill is passed, so Bermudians can then make their own minds up without political influence.

His position is spelled out in full in the guest column below. 

Mr Lister, a veteran MP who resigned from the PLP earlier this year, said: “Everyone is in favour of a referendum, so the Referendum Bill needs to be successful.

“During the debate on this bill, MPs can state their position on gaming, but once the bill has passed, the Government shouldn’t be out there beating the drum.

“The politicians should then stand back and let the people express their views, and go and vote. 

“Once the date for a referendum is set, people can state their opinions, hold public meetings and forums.

“But it wouldn’t be right for the Government or Opposition, or any other MPs, to try to push them in one direction.

“Let’s let the people have their say.”

Once the referendum is held, if the people vote for gaming in Bermuda, that’s when Government can start drawing up the details of the gaming legislation.

“This bill would then set out the rules and parameters of gaming,” said Mr Lister.

“For example, how many standalone casinos should we have, and how many in hotels.”

He said: “The tourism industry is on its back and we need to save it, by passing this referendum.”

Wayne Furbert, shadow minister of Business Development and Tourism, said: “It has always been my view that the people should make that decision (on gaming). Once the referendum is held and the people have decided, it’s up to the Government to move forward.”

Shawn Crockwell, Minister of Tourism Development and Transport, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

But Premier Craig Cannonier has pledged Government will hold a referendum by February on the issue. 

It’s time for politicians to step back
?Terry Lister

Much has been said about casino gaming over the past few years.  It has been purported that introducing casino gaming could save the tourism industry and get Bermuda back on the tourism map. Many believe that we have fallen behind in the tourism industry because we have failed to move with the times.

On the other hand those who have opposed casino gaming speak to the social ills that may result, the corruption and crime  that is thought to be associated with the gaming industry as well as the possible negative impact on the existing tourist base.

The Government of Bermuda, following the position held by the former Government, has promised to allow the people to make the decision as to gaming or no gaming. And, while I strongly believe that elected officials are elected to make the difficult decisions, I applaud the Government for staying on course with the previous Government’s commitment.   This decision will have long term ramifications for Bermuda, both good and bad. No one on either side of the argument denies both the good and bad.

However, I do come adrift from  Government in a major way.  Having said the people should decide, it is my view that Government’s responsibility is to draft the Gaming Bill, bring it to Parliament, have it debated and passed,with or without amendment, and to then allow the proponents of each side of the debate to state their case to the people and to have the people decide.  

I think the people are wise enough to hear the arguments and determine what they believe to be the way forward.

If the politicians are to give the decision to the people then do so and step back. I am disturbed by strong comments from both the Premier and the Minister of Tourism who have stated that casino gambling is vital for our future success.  

I believe that the politicians should provide all their arguments during the debate in the House indicating to the people what they believe to be the benefits and pitfalls of this decision but once passed, it should be the vested interests, NGOs, churches and other interested parties who tackle the issue.

To refresh the memories, I have heard five strong arguments for gaming while noting five strong arguments against. I will put those forward now without taking a position until the debate in Parliament.  I also wish to  state my intention of reiterating these points and fleshing them out more in the House debate rather than placing my emphasis on trying to convince the people to vote one way or the other.

The arguments in favour of gaming say that gaming will spur hotel development; casinos will be profitable; attract tourists; provide greater tax revenues; and create jobs.

The counter arguments say that with gaming comes addiction, crime, social ills; the jobs are low paying low quality jobs; new hotels with casinos will make existing hotels less attractive and thus less profitable; after casino gaming Government will be required to allow online gaming with even greater social costs; and lastly, having allowed casino gaming, Government will be required to legalize slot machine gambling which was banned only a few years ago.

The above pros and cons are only some of the issues to be considered. I expect that my Parliamentary colleagues will pass a well-drafted Bill. I then hope that the people will carefully consider this measure and vote as they see best for the long term benefit of Bermuda and their families.