Trap: Faith-based leaders have questioned why there is such a rush by government to push through gaming. *Photo supplied
Trap: Faith-based leaders have questioned why there is such a rush by government to push through gaming. *Photo supplied

This is the first article in a three-part series examining the gaming issue in Bermuda, written by Pastor Gary C Simons.

We are certainly living in interesting times. We are witnessing the political world unravel before our eyes with practices, allegations and accusations that, at best, point to a lack of integrity in government.   

My concern, as well as that of many of the faith-based leaders, leaders of social agencies and members of the general public, is the “rush and urgency” with which the government is trying to implement gaming in Bermuda based on the shaky claim that it will create more jobs and help to rescue the economy.  

It is my view that gaming will not solve our economic woes; rather, our government should shift its attention to more sustainable alternatives that will prove to be a greater investment in our people and in the future of Bermuda.  

 The government promised a referendum, which was presented with a leading question to the public: “Do you favour the introduction of regulated casino gaming for the purposes of creating new jobs for Bermudians and encouraging hotel development?”. 

The question raised red flags, as it is arguably worded to bend the vote in favour of gaming.  

However, with the potential risk of the public voting against gaming, our government decided to go against their promise to uphold democracy, and revealed their desire to pass it at all costs, which has raised suspicion in the minds of many of our people.  

 As a philanthropist, a pastor and a counsellor, I need to share my heart about this issue in the hope that the public of Bermuda will hear where a vast majority of the faith-based leaders of our Island, along with the congregations that they represent, stand on this issue.  

Community

The same stand is shared among a large sector of the general public, both faith and non-faith members of our community.  

My concern for Bermuda as it relates to this topic has always been our youth and our families, and to ensure that our government is making choices for the betterment of our nation in the long-term, not unsustainable quick-fixes for the here and now.  

Many of our social service providers, educators in our school system and volunteers in faith-based organizations and charities are working in the grassroots and meeting the needs of a cross-section of the community and are concerned about the future of our nation and we want to go forward and not backwards. 

I believe gaming is a step back from what our people deserve for the following reasons.       

Many have to lose for a few to win. Few, if any, will ever achieve sustained wealth by gaming.  

What makes gambling profitable in countries, where it has taken off (even though it is not sustained in the long-run in many cases), is an enormous client base.  

For example, New Orleans welcomed 9.01 million visitors in 2012; Las Vegas had 39.7 million; and the Bahamas estimated 5.7 million visitors in 2012, the greatest draw being the Atlantis Resort, not gaming alone. In 2012, Bermuda saw just over 500,000 visitors to the island. Because investors care more about the bottom line than the impact gaming has on the community, they have to push for gaming to be open to both tourists and nationals.   

We have to ask, why is it that governments try to restrain their own people from participating in gaming as in the Bahamas?  

The answer is because many have to lose for the few to win and part of this loss is the social degradation that gaming brings to a community.

The inevitable “kick-back” of generated social-ills from gaming will cost Bermuda’s taxpayers more than any legal profit the government will make from this industry. 

This is a proven reality in countries where gaming is present. We cannot dodge the reality that there is a social price to pay. The investors obtain a profit while the government has to pay for an increase in social services, crime prevention endeavours and interventions due to the negative impact of gaming on society, families, youth and the general community. 

“Some crime rates, including total crime, property crime, embezzlement, and prostitution increased immediately after casinos began operating in Atlantic City.” –– Page 9 GAO/GDD-00-78 Impact of Gambling.  

While investors may profit, ultimately the people of Bermuda will lose. 

It is misleading to think that gaming will create many jobs for the Island and rescue the economy in any sustainable way.  

As stated previously, Bermuda does not have the volume of visitors required to sustain a high profit margin for investors; and, therefore, there will likely be a push for locals to participate in gambling.  

Yet, even with both tourists and locals gambling, job posts and wages would be limited for the sake of the bottom line. Let’s look at this in light of these two populations. 

Bang for their buck

The first being tourists: If tourists desire to gamble as a main purpose of their vacation, why in the world would they come to what they deem as a high-priced market such as Bermuda, when they can get more “bang for their buck” in larger cities such as New Orleans, Las Vegas or Atlantic City?  

Hoteliers in such cities offer free room and board for high rollers; we cannot afford to offer these incentives in Bermuda due to high costs for employers who are delicately managing their employee base.  

The second being locals: As a Bermudian myself, I am also aware that we, as a people, tend to get “tired” of things after time, and I am fully convinced that gaming will not be sustained among our locals in the long-run.  

Persons will not continue to gamble their paychecks away in a country where the high cost of living causes many to live from paycheck to paycheck as it is.   

In addition, those who are affluent in our nation, many successful businessmen and women, consider the risk of every investment and are disinclined to gamble their money away. 

Unfortunately, instead, those who suffer the ongoing snares of gambling will be too few to sustain the gaming industry, to any viable level, but they will contribute significantly to our already -owering social ills. 

Next week we will look at more sustainable ways that the Government can invest in the future of our Island with a focus on our youth.