Letter: Legalize numbers games

I had no plans to write another letter so soon to the media, but I have read of the plans in the upcoming November sitting of the Legislative Assembly to increase penalties for illegal gambling quite significantly from where the old laws have these tariffs currently, and this gives me great cause for concern. My understanding is that this is being proposed by the Portfolio of Legal Affairs with the support of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, where it is linking the current numbers game to other crimes being carried out. I am not convinced of this latter fact, nor of any great change or spike in the way numbers are negatively affecting our society.

However, what I am convinced about is for the need for us to stop the hypocrisy in Cayman. When someone buys a number with the hope of making some financial gain for a relatively small investment, is it really that different from someone buying a “legal” raffle ticket from a service club or any other entity, with the hope/chance of financial reward or winning a car, TV, trip, etc.? Are we going to make this illegal as well? The playing field has to be level, folks, so pray tell me the difference here.

For those who may not be aware, the numbers game has been entrenched in these islands for many years now (for 40-plus years, Belizean, Honduran and, more recently, Jamaican numbers are played), and many at the lower economic spectrum in Cayman benefit daily from their little winnings – church people play, police play, courts staff play, prison officers play, and lawyers, doctors, politicians and civil servants play. All people play! Let’s be real and honest here.

To stiffen these penalties now, we run the risk of criminalizing many otherwise law-abiding citizens in Cayman. Is this our goal? The prison is already full of our people, in many cases, for trivial matters. It also will take up more police and court time away from serious crimes and issues in these islands that are more deserving of their attention.

Instead, why do not we stop in our haste to make more onerous legislation and look once and for all at the “evil” we are trying to mandate against and say, “Hold on, shouldn’t we instead legalize this numbers game and have licensed sellers, individuals and businesses, and make good revenue off of what is already happening, and which tougher legislation will not stop? Could we not then use these funds in a segregated fund towards education, healthcare, etc., for our people?”

In 2000, when the then-Leader of Government Business, Hon. Kurt Tibbetts formed a committee (the Fiscal Advisory Group) to look into alternative revenue streams for these islands I was lucky to be a part of it. A national lottery and the numbers game were just two areas we looked at. We met with the top guy in the numbers game in Cayman at the time and he explained his business and how much he made a week – it was mind blowing and nothing to sneeze at, and this was 18 years ago! He agreed to being licensed and felt that heavy license fees would be welcomed by sellers over prosecution for something we could not stop in any event. Any unlicensed sellers, who would then likely be few and far apart, could be prosecuted and dealt with accordingly. Along came the 2001 political coup and that initiative died and, sadly, was never revived.

Folks maybe, just maybe, a light bulb will go off in someone’s head after reading this, and stop this waste of judicial and legislative effort to criminalize more of our people. All progressive countries in the world have national lotteries, or some form of chance to improve one’s lot in life through scratch cards or buying numbers.

I rest my case on this for now and will sit back and wait with interest on what transpires in the upcoming sitting in November. The debate on this level of hypocrisy should be quite interesting.

Osbourne Bodden

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