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TOUGHER GAMBLING PENALTIES DOMINATE LOTTERY DEBATE

Government 13 Dec, 2022 Follow News

Sir Alden

By Staff Writer

A motion tabled in Parliament proposing referendums on a national lottery and decriminalisation of marijuana has sparked a newly intensified debate among members of Parliament (MPs) especially on the extent of illegal gambling in Cayman and its repercussions.

The PACT government is proposing establishing a national lottery while at the same time severely clamping down on the multi-million-dollars by some estimates extensive network of illegal gambling run by what officials have described as criminal syndicates based outside Cayman.

It has also been linked to violent crimes here including armed robberies and at least one murder

PREMIER PANTON: BAN IT

Stiff fines of up to CI$20,000 and up to four years in jail are being considered for persons involved.

Tabling the motion for the proposed lottery Hon. Premier Wayne Panton said addressing the impact of illegal gambling had become a seminal issue for Cayman with concerns from the wider public, stakeholders and the RCIPS.

“The government’s position is that this is a problem that we can no longer simply ignore. For too long the approach has been to kick the can down the road and to ignore it. The result has been a cost to this country and to certain families in particular because it has cost lives. There’s also an increase in the crime rate, and there are issues around the destabilisation of families and also reputational damage,” the Premier said.

EX-SPEAKER BUSH: LEGALISE IT

But the government’s move to clamp down on illegal gambling did not find favour with former Speaker McKeeva Bush who now sits as an independent MP.

In his intervention on the issue, the first following the presentation by Premier Panton, Mr Bush strongly advocated that instead of penalising people involved in the popular underground numbers games, the government should legalise it and use the proceeds for community projects.

“The lottery, as is proposed is completely different from the number games. If this House is serious about stopping criminality, the way to stop the illegal numbers game is to make it legal…I have given notice of an amendment to make it legal and for any proceeds to be used for education, for the elderly stipends that we give them monthly to raise that to the level that needs to be raised, and housing something that we all know is needed.”

FORMER PREMIER SIR ALDEN: REGULATE IT

Speaking next, former Premier Sir Alden McLaughlin of the Progressives party, equated the move by the PACT government as akin to Alice in Wonderland in putting the cart before the horse.

Sir Alden who supports the referendum on the national lottery and decriminalising cannabis, abstained from the government’s amendment to the Gambling Bill.

Recalling that the numbers games have been endemic in Cayman for well over 40 years, he questioned the logic of the government’s move to now introduce more draconian penalties.

“How at the same point that the government decides that it is going to hold a national referendum on whether we should have a national lottery, the government then decides that in advance of that they want to put as many Caymanians as they possibly can and in jail, to keep them from buying and selling numbers?” he queried.

“The logic of that eludes me. We have survived this long with the law imperfect as it is, but on the eve of us deciding whether or not the country wants national a National Lottery, we decide to increase the penalties to a point where we effectively, or we hope - I think that is being very optimistic - to shut down the numbers business in Cayman. The Premier purports to say he understands that this is a major social issue, that this has become part of the norm and part of the local culture, but I’m not sure he really truly understands how endemic for lack of a better word,” the former Premier argued.

Sir Alden suggested that the PACT government should instead find ways of regulating gambling rather than criminalising Caymanians.

DEPUTY GOVERNOR: LAW OUTDATED

Gov. Deputy Governor Franz Manderson characterised the illegal gambling in Cayman as a social scourge, saying it was a pervasive criminal activity infiltrated by organised criminal syndicates with violent crimes, and involving money laundering with links to Jamaican and Honduran networks.

Outline the proposed new penalties, he said current legislation on illegal gambling - in place for over 59 years, was not fit for purpose

Overall, Mr Manderson is of the view that illegal gambling is business for Cayman and says the stiffer penalties are aimed at discouraging people from getting involved in it.

“In recent years the Cayman Islands has seen a sharp increase in the rate of violent crimes linked to gambling, including armed robberies, intimidation and murder. The existing legislation is outdated and provides little to no deterrence for those involved in this type of criminal activity.”

Mr Manderson reported that current penalties range from fines of CI$10 to CI$400 with prison terms of between two and 12 months.

“It is therefore imperative that we enact legislation measures to deter illegal gambling and the long-term effects it has on the health and safety of our communities, our integrity as people, and the jurisdiction’s reputation for good governance and upholding the rule of law,” the Deputy Governor stated.

ATTORNEY GENERAL: DETERRENT NEEDED

Hon. Attorney General Samuel Bulgin sought to ally concerns about the new penalties saying that the intention is more preventative than punitive.

He also said the issue of illegal gambling and associated violent crime was also a matter of great concern for the RCIPS.

“What the government is saying is that this is a means to an end and that we need to find a way to prevent these sorts of activities from happening. So the pull factor is really the cash, the amount of money that is involved…It cannot be that the government is prepared to stand by and allow people to be subjected to this level of violence.”


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