I distinguish Mr Al Creighton from his former UG colleague Dr Desrey Fox, Prime Minister Sam Hinds, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy and Mr Odinga Lumumba all of whom have suddenly discovered casino gambling as a development strategy for Guyana. Mr. Creighton in his letter captioned “The same debate took place in other Caribbean countries where casino gambling was introduced” (2007.01.13) took the academic’s approach of grading the pronouncements of those opposed to casino gambling and then said yes, but even those with merit are flawed. On the other hand Dr. Fox and Messrs Rohee and Lumumba targeted the Christian community in a manner that inevitably raised the question whether they were playing only the religion card.
While Mr. Creighton accepts the critics’ concerns about the dangers of casino gambling, those on the Government side can see only jobs and investments. Indeed, Dr. Ramsammy makes bold to state that casino gambling is ‘not a sham for money laundering’, ignoring the evidence gathered by one of the world’s leading accounting firms Ernst & Young which puts the amount of money laundered annually by criminal networks at US$1 trillion dollars, with casinos being one of the easiest and therefore preferred options. Trinidad and Tobago is no doubt among Dr. Ramsammy’s ‘hundred countries’ in which casino gambling is legal. That country permits casino-style gambling in members’ clubs only and which, depending on how you count them, number about forty, several offering no more than a few pin-ball machines in backstreets without even telephone numbers. The number of ‘10,000 direct jobs’ provided by casinos in Trinidad and Tobago is plain wrong.
But what is particularly striking about Dr Ramsammy’s paper is that in the same paragraph in which he referred to my S/N letter of January 7, 2007, he assures the nation that ‘casino gambling is also not being permitted because of any accommodation of any particular person or group.’ The French say it cutely: ‘He who excuses himself accuses himself’.
Why was that assurance necessary? Knowing Mr. Creighton as I do I am sure that he would be concerned that someone who is facing a serious charge of fuel smuggling is being financed partly by taxpayers’ money and that he would be interested as we all are in knowing the nature and value of concessions the government has granted that person. And would Dr Ramsammy tell us whether any space has been set aside for casino gambling in Buddy’s International Hotel.
It is hard to believe that, in the words of Dr Ramsammy, the Government has ‘studied the experiences of other countries, some in our own region of the Caribbean.’ If it had, then it would be aware that in the Budget Speech reported in the Trinidad Express of October 5, 2006, Prime Minister Manning vowed to eliminate casino-type establishments in his country. The ‘industry’ in Suriname is under the strong influence of the Ukrainian Mafia while in Venezuela, the owner of the Casino de Venezia told the court that the hotel was frequented by a group of Italians associated with the Italian Camorra, known for its Mafia connections. In South Korea several public officials including a minister of the Government have been guilty of accepting bribes in connection with the granting of licences to sell gambling machines while in the Philippines a close ally of President Arroya owns the Metrowall Mall in which an illegal casino was recently opened and which is associated with the assassination of a previous owner. And Cyprus admits to contemplating casino gambling because ‘it is the lesser of two evils’. Is that the kind of globalisation and development this country favours? Mr. Creighton, whose writing and contribution to Guyana is unmatched by any of his colleagues at the University of Guyana, dismisses the arguments against casino gambling as emotional. He demonstrates more faith than most Guyanese that the government would ‘do the right things’ to mitigate the adverse consequences of casino gambling and its attendant evils. His research would have alerted him to the fact that the state that hosts the gambling capital of the world Las Vegas, has the second highest rate of homelessness in the US, twice the national average and that even developed countries like the USA and the UK can barely regulate their gambling industry.
Mr Creighton whose field is the arts, might not even be aware that while the government bowed to international pressure and passed legislation in 2000 to prevent money laundering, the legislation was not brought into effect even as the illegal narco-trade, fuel smuggling, tax evasion and money laundering took root in the country and along with other elements of the underground economy now account for some 40% of the economy. Simultaneously, the Government has ignored warnings that the non-bank cambios do much, much more than change money for the person who may not have access to the commercial banks or who care simply about a better rate.
As an intellectual and commentator, does Mr Creighton accept PM Hinds’ argument that those who oppose casino gambling should vote out the PPP/C in 2011 as an informed position on what democracy means? It is not emotions that drive the concern that the constitutional provision on consultation is being ignored or that the President has reneged on his publicly stated commitment to consult with the population. How many of those who favour casino gambling have read the draft casino gambling legislation and are aware that Guyanese would be welcome in these new beacons of development? If Dr Ramsammy had read the Bill which he supports and promotes he would not have said that ‘only visitors would be able to take advantage of this new activity’. In fact any registered guest can enter the casino and all you have to do is pretend to pay for the registration and in return you are given tokens often of a higher value so as to entice you into the place. If as we are assured there has been no promise to any person or group, and if, as Dr. Ramsammy points out, the government has encouraged the debate (which encouragement must have gone undetected by most Guyanese), then only good can come from allowing further time to an informed debate beyond the letter columns, mainly in the Stabroek News, or the rantings of the uninformed in the National Assembly.
That would be my recommendation and I ask Mr. Creighton to support this.