Petition to be launched on gaming referendum

A newly formed pressure group is to lobby Government to reconsider its decision to axe a promised referendum on gaming.

The campaigners will launch a petition tomorrow morning and hope to gather at least 4,000 signatures in support of the referendum being held.

Their aim is to convince Ministers that the electorate should be given the opportunity to vote on whether or not casino gambling should be allowed in Bermuda — a vote promised by the One Bermuda Alliance before and after the party came to power in December 2012.

A spokesman for the group spoke to The Royal Gazette yesterday but asked not to be named. He said: “In some ways, you can say that the referendum has been stolen from the people. “We would like to get as many signatures as we could get ... a minimum of 4,000, which is ten percent of the voting population.”

He said the group was non-partisan and had not taken a stance on gambling, purely on the issue of whether a referendum should be held.

“We think that’s the best way to move ahead on this issue,” he said. “It’s an issue ... that is going to have a large social impact on our society and we think the referendum is the most appropriate route to reach an informed decision and to educate the people.”

The group, which includes several independent candidates from the 2012 general election, is unofficially calling itself Referendum for Bermuda.

The spokesman said the identity of its members would be revealed on Thursday.

“I can’t stress enough that this is pro-democracy, pro-referendum,” he said. “It’s not taking a position on gambling.

“We are not attacking any party or siding with any party. We are saying we were promised a referendum.”

Premier Craig Cannonier announced on December 13 that Government had scrapped the promised referendum on gaming and would instead move ahead with gaming legislation, in a bid to boost the ailing tourism industry.

The decision was supported by Bermuda Chamber of Commerce and Bermuda Hotel Association (BHA).

Chamber president Ronnie Viera said yesterday: “I think it is democracy at work, so those that disagree with the decision should do what they feel is necessary.

“The Chamber’s concern over the proposed referendum is the wording of the question, cost and time frame and we are on record as being opposed to having one.

“The decision on gaming is required sooner rather than later so that potential hotel investors can make their own decisions.

“We appreciate that on its own, casino gambling will not solve the entire Bermuda tourism problem but believe that it is an option that should be available to hotels as an additional revenue source.

“It is all about creating jobs, both during construction of a new hotel and then ongoing employment to run the hotel, in addition to making Bermuda a more profitable destination for hotel investment.

“Personally, I think as a first step, having minimal social impact, would be to allow hotels to have some sort of casino on the property with access only to those holding a room key.

“The referendum issue is a political one for the Government so they will have to resolve that as best they can.”

John Harvey, chief executive officer of BHA, said: “We support the Government and their desire to take it straight to Parliament.

“That’s where it belongs and that’s where the decision ought to be made.

“This issue has been bandied about for a very very long time in this community.

“We do know there are some potential hotel developers who have an interest in gaming and I believe that Bermuda would do well if we address this sooner rather than later. We have said that from the beginning. That’s always been our position.”

A Tourism Ministry spokesman said the Tourism Minister was aware of a news story on ZBM-TV about the petition but had yet to hear from the group.

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Published Jan 8, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 8, 2014 at 9:37 am)

Petition to be launched on gaming referendum

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