The churches had had their say, sometimes hilariously, sometimes hypocritically, sometimes barely audibly. Borrowing from Nancy Reagan’s namby-pamby best known failed campaign, the holy shepherds urged their tainted flock to seek the courage openly to “Say no to casinos!”
Predictably, the House opposition had also objected when the day’s government sought, as they put it, to legalize gambling. De Invader, with his own cards close to his chest, lustily encouraged regular bettors on Calypso Monarch contests to sing along: “We don’t want no damn casino!” Who knows for certain what Vader meant by “we?”
Most of that was in 1995. Already the day’s prime minister had reminded protesting clergymen to stay in their section. He had also advised the professional guardians of the nation’s soul to devote a full weekend to communing with the Almighty, then come see him again the following Monday morning, perchance he’d undergone a miraculous change of heart.
Alas, when the time came, all the cassocked crusaders received from the ever mischievous John the Jokist was the following evergreen: “You take care of the people’s souls, I’ll take care of their bellies!” Which of course put an end to the discourse, even as organized gambling, for whatever untold reasons, was placed on the official back burner.
Then came 1997 and the new government’s “heavy legislative agenda” that included the famously mindless, short-lived no-bail law; the egregious nonstarter Section 361; Section 161, the law that was to politically bury poor Sarah Flood-Beaubrun; the law that killed the green gold goose—and yes, the legislation that would legalize gaming in much the same way abortion had been rendered legal.
Ironically, both the abortion-related law and the magical statute that would make illegal gaming legal with the stroke of a pen were introduced to parliament by the day’s blessed virgin, an avowed young Seventh Day Adventist who, by her own blasphemous admission had taken her cue from the conveniently religious electorate, not from their maker.
As had happened so many times before, the soul-protecting protestors had found other preoccupations, chief among them, keeping the new administration as happy as they would have the new administration keep them happy. De Invader had also found a new section in the devil’s choir. By 2003, not only had a National Gaming Authority (later to be renamed the National Lotteries Authority) been established, so had legislation relating to the operation of local casinos.
Initially, gaming licenses required casinos to be housed in hotels and resort complexes. Resident Saint Lucians were by law unwelcome, reminiscent of the “color bar” that had awakened the sleeping giant civil-rights activist in the Baptist minister Dr Martin Luther King Jr. There were few protestors, save the usual horseflies at the STAR that alone would also challenge the free-speech inhibitor Section 361.
Meanwhile, visiting sons and daughters of Saint Lucia in possession of foreign travel papers were welcome to gamble with their vacation money, and the hell with their souls.
Then came the House sitting on August 10, 2004 when the day’s Labour prime minister delivered the following reminder: “When the Gaming Control Act was crafted and approved by this House, the condition laid down for the operation of any casino in Saint Lucia was that the casino should be part of a hotel complex containing at least 250 rooms.”
To be considered, he added, were “expressions of interest from a number of developers.” The prime minister invited the parliament he dominated to consider an amendment to the Gaming Control Act that would legalize stand-alone gambling palaces able to provide Saint Lucians at least 200 jobs.
“I want to make it very clear,” the prime minister explained, “that the government of Saint Lucia is not interested in giving any operator exclusivity. I also want to make it very clear that this government has always said it will not allow casinos to dot the Saint Lucia landscape. We are not going to go the route of a St. Maarten, for example, where every street has two or three casinos. That will not be encouraged. Casinos will be strategically located—and the numbers will obviously be very, very controlled.”
He repeated his expressed determination to protect Saint Lucians from lurking gambling demons in their souls. Doubtless convinced no related precedent was about to be established, he nevertheless addressed possible naysayers as follows:
“Those who feel aggrieved can always challenge the legislation and let the courts pronounce. The courts are there, go and get the courts to pronounce.
“Those who say it is discriminatory, the courts are always there for you to go and test it [the law]. Get a lawyer, employ a lawyer.”
Doubtless baiting those who, like himself, were aware of the sneaky assault on the nation’s constitution, he resorted to Looshan sarcasm, with all its naked arrogance: “If you feel you good enough and you better than a lawyer, go and do it yourself. Go and argue yourself. Who knows, we might even give you amicus curiae, if you want to do that.”
Doubtless there were many among his loyal constituents, as well as others watching him on TV, who wondered whether amicus curiae was contagious. It wasn’t until 2010, when by his own admission Kenny Anthony was still undergoing certain character-altering procedures in Purgatory, that Saint Lucia’s first casino—a stand-alone—opened for business at the Bay Walk Mall in Rodney Bay.
But for some the best part was that resident Looshans were welcome to risk losing what little they had. As if to facilitate those who might’ve felt out of place at the plush Bay Walk establishment, our poorest citizens, that is, there arrived sans protest all over the island, so-called Video Lottery Terminals, aka VLTs.
I say they came in unprotested, but that was until the machines became a big hit with bibulous bar patrons from Gros Islet to Vieux Fort, female patrons in particular. Something had to give. Reports were that having lost their hard-earned meager wages to the ubiquitous slot machines, many women were forced to survive thanks to ever-accessible hairy banks. Something had to give, and give something did.
Spearheading the anti-VLT two-member campaign was the church mouse and all-around morality dispenser Emma Hippolyte (at the time a grossly underestimated SLP candidate for the Gros Islet constituency) and, of all people, her chameleonic party leader, former pro-gamer and prime minister Kenny Anthony.
Strange bedfellows though they seemed, both vowed during their successful 2011 election campaign to rid the nation of the VLT machines upon taking office—which must have sounded like cool soul music in the ears of lawyer Peter Foster, among whose prominent clients was the licensed wannabe operator of a planned Treasure Bay Casino, to be built on the Pigeon Point Causeway.
Meanwhile Foster—House Speaker since the return of Kenny Anthony in 2011—had challenged the operations of the company responsible for the local VLT epidemic: CAGE.
At the time Foster had told reporters: “Any license granted to the National Lottery Authority to operate VLTs, or other gaming devices, is contrary to the National Lotteries Act and the Gaming Act.
“We have actually filed a case for judicial revision to examine the decision taken by the Ministry of Youth and Sports to permit the operation of the VLTs.”
He added that the government had effectively encouraged the operation of unregulated casinos throughout the island, in effect acted illegally.
In a June 8, 2011 interview with this newspaper, the chairman of the National Lotteries Authority, Alison Mathurin, endorsed the official decision to permit the operation of CAGE’s VLTs in Saint Lucia. By his account, the company had initially approached the government, but the matter was later turned over to the NLA.
Finally a 10-year agree-ment was reached between CAGE and the government, through the NLA. The company would establish and manage in bars, restaurants and hotels up to one thousand machines across the island.
Said Mathurin: “The company guarantees the NLA a monthly EC$250,000. The authority gets an additional percentage when the revenue exceeds a certain amount.”
Fast forward to 2014, two and a half years after the reelection of Kenny Anthony. Neither the pious MP for Gros Islet and Commerce Minister Emma Hippolyte, nor the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Kenny Anthony has raised any objections to the VLTs.
On the contrary, when not so long ago Hippolyte was off island the prime minister precedentially repossessed her portfolios and signed the document that she had resisted signing, and which would permit the arrival in Saint Lucia of still more VLTs.
Commenting on the matter upon her return home, Mother Hippolyte told reporters there was absolutely nothing disturbing about the prime minister’s action. His back was against the wall, she said. Evidently, her own back was elsewhere!
On Monday this week, the judicial review sought by Treasure Bay Casino’s legal representative (aka Mr. Speaker) came before the courts. Named as respondents were representatives of Saint Lucia’s gaming authority, the prime minister’s Cabinet—including the Social Transformation, Youth and Sports Minister Shawn Edwards —and the company, CAGE Saint Lucia.
Peter Foster QC along with Reneé St. Rose, represented Treasure Bay, with Esther Greene-Ernest for the government, and Vern Gill for the NLA. Garth Patterson QC, a non-national, represented CAGE Saint Lucia. (Surprisingly, Anthony Astaphan was nowhere in sight!)
According to court documents, Treasure Bay is seeking the review, based on claims the government failed to enforce the provisions of the Gaming Control Act as they relate to the importation, distribution and operation of gaming devices by CAGE, and the decision of the Government of Saint Lucia and/or the Cabinet of Ministers, to authorize the importation, distribution and/or operation of gaming devices in Saint Lucia by CAGE and thirdly, the unlawful importation, distribution and operation of gaming devices in Saint Lucia.
During day four of the matter (Thursday), Foster sought to establish it was the Government that had pressured the National Lotteries Authority to sign the agreement with CAGE. Former NLA Chairman Alison Mathurin testified otherwise. He explained that at first the NLA had an agreement with Canadian Bank Note to manage games of chance here, and that CBN had agreed to meet the loan repayments to Beausejour Cricket Grounds to the tune of more that EC$3.5 million.
In answer to Foster’s query, whether CBN had approved the deal with CAGE, Mathurin responded in the negative. Nevertheless, he said, they were advised to gather more information about the company.
He went on: “I, too, had concerns because we had heard and read some very negative things about VLTs and we were concerned about bringing into Saint Lucia something that had been described as evil.”
Mathurin said it had taken almost two years to complete the deal.
Asked whether any study was undertaken, Mathurin’s response to Foster was: “No.” Foster suggested the agreement with CAGE had been “rushed into.” Pattersen objected.
Foster would later read from a letter citing a Cabinet decision to instruct the NLA to enter into a ten-year contract with CAGE on July 30, 2010.
Earlier, one witness, Mark Morano from the United States, sought to establish that VLT’s were indeed lottery machines, contrary to CAGE’s contention. QC Patterson questioned his line of reasoning, as well as his expertise. Morano described the VLTs as “true video lottery,” where multiple players engage in a common game and the randomness of the outcome was the same.
“These machines are configured to operate as slot machines,” Morano added.
More than six witnesses have so far appeared in this matter.
The case continues.
Editor Toni Nicholas also contributed to this feature.