Courts impose penalties as prescribed by 50-year-old Cayman Gambling Law

Sentences could have greater consequences for Non-Caymanians

 It is an offence in the Cayman Islands to buy or be in possession of a lottery ticket.

The maximum sentence on conviction is a fine of $10 or imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for two months.

The two alternatives may seem out of proportion, but there is a reason: The Gambling Law that sets these sentences is over 50 years old and has never been amended — except for one significant deletion that will be explained later.

The financial penalty for having a lottery ticket in the 1960s was in fact five pounds, either British or Jamaican currency, since they were on par and Cayman did not yet have its own legal tender. That five pound maximum was considerable in an era when shop assistants earned an average of 15 pounds per month.

Cayman got its own currency in 1972, but the law remained in pounds until 1996, when it was revised.

The revision process does not allow for changes in substance. All it can do is consolidate the main law with later amendments and make an alteration to bring the law into conformity with the circumstances of these Islands. In the case of The Gambling Law, the change of circumstances was the introduction of Cayman Islands currency. Ten dollars was considered to be the equivalent of the 1963 fine of five pounds.

For whatever reason, the circumstances of the Islands did not result in removing the possibility of imprisonment with hard labour, even though prescribing hard labour has not been an option for several decades.

In a 2007 case, Magistrate Nova Hall ordered over $19,000 forfeited to the Crown after the money was found in a house where lottery tickets were being sold. She commented that the forfeiture was the real sentence because several sections of the Gambling Law were woefully inadequate.

For example, of the six people charged, three were fined the maximum penalty for possession of lottery tickets – $10. One man who pleaded guilty to escaping from a common gaming house on the occasion of it being entered by police also received the maximum fine – $10. The most heavily penalised was a woman who admitted using her residence as a common gaming house, which attracted a fine of $300. The maximum fine is $400, but she received credit for pleading guilty.

Police had found the money — totalling CI$18,628.39 and US$330 — in toilets, in bedrooms, in a refrigerator and in a woman’s purse.

In February 2011 the magistrate declared, “If authorities are seeking to crack down on gambling offences, the penalties need to be higher.” She was dealing with offences of selling lottery tickets and using a residence as a common gaming house. The defendant was already under a suspended sentence for similar offences. Partly because of the woman’s age –59 — she was given a community service order instead.

Six months later, the court dealt with a woman who pleaded guilty to selling numbers. Along with a charge under the Gambling Law, she was also charged under the Proceeds of Crime Law for possession of criminal property — the monies she had taken in. The Proceeds of Crime Law provides a maximum penalty of $5,000 and imprisonment up to two years or both. This defendant was fined $700; under the Gambling Law alone, the maximum would have been $400.

There have been numerous people before the court for whom a $10 fine would mean less than the inconvenience of going to court. But the criminal conviction can have serious consequences, especially for people hereon work permit. They may have come from countries where lotteries are legal and they may not have realised the seriousness of the offence in Cayman, but a conviction can very well jeopardise their chances of remaining here when the work permit comes up for renewal.

People who argue in favour of gambling sometimes point out that Cayman’s gambling law in its 1958 original form original forbade “common gaming houses” but with the specific proviso that this did not include “a club to which the Administrator in Council, subject to such terms and conditions as he see fit, grants express exemptions”.

In June 1967, the Legislative Assembly voted to delete this proviso so that a common gaming house became what it remains today: “any place kept or used for gambling, to which the public, or any class of the public, has or may have access thereto or not and any place kept or used for the purpose of a public lottery.

A public lottery means a lottery to which the public or any class of the public has or may have access.

A lottery includes any game, method or device whereby money or money’s worth is distributed or allotted in any manner depending upon, or to be determined by chance or lot, held, drawn, exercised or managed whether within the Islands, or in any country or place outside the Islands.

A lottery ticket includes any paper, figure, writing, symbol or other article whatsoever, which either expressly or tacitly entitles, or purports to entitle the holder or any other person to receive any money or money’s worth on the happening of any event or contingency connected with any public lottery.


  1. Since there are no taxes in Cayman, and a lottery is a tax on people who don’t understand math, there should be no Cayman lottery!

  2. Does the Judicial System and the Legal Department know that it is a waste of time arresting people for selling or buying lottery. They might as well begin to arrest people for buying Beer. It will never stop and become contagious disease. We have the Jamaican Lottery buying and selling here four times a day. We have the Belize lottery buying and selling every night. We have the Honduras Lottery buying and selling every Sunday we have the Philippine lottery every day, we have the Indian lottery every day. what more evidence do we want. Black market is making a killing, and now I am wondering if there is someone who is really a Top Dog in control at the Black market why it keeps alive here and we cannot get a Cayman Lottery. We never know.

  3. People will do what people want to do. That basic to a democratic country.

    I choose to drink, I choose to eat and God knows the damage this does to some people.

    So let the state stay out of the way of democracy.

  4. @Big berd, you can be charged for as long the ticket in your possession is still awaiting draw from the point you landed in Cayman. Tricky is police needs warrant to search your luggage and I don’t think you will be caught if you have no history of winning that your bank reported to the police and that they suspect every time upon arrival you possessed a live ticket.

  5. In England there is a National Lottery.

    It has generated almost 30 Billion pounds for good causes! 3/4 Billion was raised for the London Olympics, but projects can be as humble as a few hundred dollars for re-decorating a community center.

    Pie goes like this – Half money goes into a prize fund for the winners, 5% or 6% (depending on the game) goes to the retailers who sell the tickets, 12% is a Government duty and the rest goes to good causes – community, arts, heritage, sports facilies and so on.

    Lets play a little math based on that model.

    If Cayman had a lottery and 50,000 people bought a 5 ticket each week (Not everyone would but we get 10,000 cruise shippers a day so if marketed right…(Tax free winnings – woohoooo!).

    It would raise 1.5 million for government.

    Shops selling the tickets would get a share of 750,000 (how many jobs would that create).
    Charities and good causes would get 3.6 million a year which compares to the 10M over 3 years the heritage fund doled out.

    We all know that it’s a good way of raising cash – not that far from the raffle tickets that are sold for various charities around the island on a daily basis. (Raffle legal, Lottery illegal)

    Plus it would drive the shady black market numbers games out of business…

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