Citizens of the Bahamas, who are forbidden by law from engaging in any form of gambling, including the islands’ casinos, have overwhelmingly rejected a referendum that would have legalized gambling on numbers for island citizens.
The Bahamas government has long tolerated underground betting parlors in the islands known as “web shops,” where Bahamians bet on numbers in televised U.S. lotteries. A two-part referendum asked voters whether the gambling shops should be legalized, regulated and taxed, and if the government should establish its own national lottery.
Bahamian voters rejected both prospects by wide margins, although voter turnout was low. The government will now face the task of shutting down the dozens of underground web shops. “The prime minister was clear that his government would be guided by the results of the referendum and the will of the people, notwithstanding the low voter turnout,” said Bradley Roberts, chairman of the Bahamas’ ruling party.
After the vote, the government demanded that the web shops close immediately. “Accordingly, all offending web shop owners and operators are placed on notice that all their gaming operations, including all online gaming and the numbers games, must cease with immediate effect,” Prime Minister Perry Christie said in a brief statement. “Failure to do so will leave all such web shop owners, operators and web shop gaming patrons exposed to arrest and criminal prosecution without further notice or warning.”
The referendum is seen as a defeat for the islands’ casinos, particularly the new Baha Mar casino on Cable Beach in Nassau, which wanted to include locals in its marketing efforts. Other casinos also wanted the more prosperous Bahamians to be able to enjoy gambling in the country’s casinos.