Photo Credit: Gordon French/BVI Platinum News
The Government will not make a decision to legalize parimutuel betting without the input of the public since the BVI is a Christian community, according to Hon. Myron Walwyn, Education and Culture Minister with responsibility for Sports.
Eileene Parsons, former legislator and host of the National Democratic Party (NDP) radio programme raised the issue during Monday's programme. She asked the Minister about taking a racing legislation in terms of the track to the House of Assembly which will cover many areas including having a manager and the controversial issue of parimutuel betting.
"We have discussed it as a group that we need to improve the track in terms of the way it is being operated. So certainly there is a controversial part that you are well aware of and we will have to be guided by the public in terms of how that is dealt with because we are a very religious society," Hon. Walwyn stated.
Parsons stated, "We are?" The Minister then added, "yes we are...but certainly we need to bring more structure to the way horse racing is being done and certainly we recognize that we are having difficulties where we don´t have enough horses and so forth to carry out the races. So some work needs to be done and the government understand that...We have been having discussions with yourself and other persons about it, it needs to happen and we will move diligently to make sure it is done very soon."
The development of horse racing, which was previously shared between the Premier's Office and the Ministry of Communications and Works under the Virgin Islands Party administration, is now under the direction of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Premier Hon. Dr. Orlando Smith was also asked to speak on the issue of parimutuel betting, and he stated that it is true that the act or laws governing the sport of horse racing have been around for some time.
"We have looked at it before but you are quite right this time we need to take a serious look because it is a sport that is very popular and provides entertainment for a very large part of the population in the BVI and whether or not there is parimutuel the sport is popular and I think it is time now. And I know that the Minister of Education and Sports, he learn something from his colleague the Action Man, he doesn´t hang around, he try to get things done and moving. The only constraint is only when I have to say we have to identify the source of funding," the Premier stated.
Parsons told the Ministers that 92 percent of the public say parimutuel betting is the 'in thing' and Hon. Walwyn stated, "That is what I hear."
Parsons also cleared up the misconception that while she was in office she could have brought the legislation in place to address the issue. Parsons said it was impossible and she was never in charge of funding since it was established under the Chief Minister´s office, now its under the Culture Ministry.
"It was impossible...There was nothing I could have done."
Earlier this year, President of the BVI Horse Owners Association, Lesmore Smith said that the introduction of parimutuel betting will help to minimize confrontations in the sport which are fuelled by the current practices that allow for underground man-to-man betting.
Shortly before the Triple Crown race card in January, there was a reported incident where a lone man threatened persons in the area of the stables at the Ellis Thomas Downs with a firearm.
Smith said that from all indications, the incident stemmed from one party not honouring a previous bet.
"We have to try to get the parimutuel in place to avoid this man-to-man betting as much as we can. It's impossible for us to stop it because we cannot control that, but if we put a proper structure in place for people to go in and do their wager, I think it would neutralize certain things from happening and create a much better atmosphere and environment for everyone," Smith told BVI Platinum News.
Meanwhile, during a public meeting at the East End/Long Look Community Centre in January, Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering said gambling is quite evident at horse races.
"We are going to horse races and we see what is going on and we are still going to horse races...we as a country have to face the harsh reality that we got to deal [with]...but also understand that I don't have a right to impose my own personal belief on the wider society so as a leader," Hon. Pickering told the audience during the meeting called to address labour issues in the Territory.
The Deputy Premier said that the BVI will come to a point sooner or later where it will have to decide whether to legalise gambling or not.
"We have to face it; we don't have a choice because all of us know it is going on...and we could do this...all of us know that prostitution is going on...but we want to bury our heads in the sand like an ostridge and yes I have to...because I am an elected official...but it's not just about us as elected officials, but us as a people we have to decide first and foremost what is it we want for our country," Hon. Pickering stated.
Hon. Pickering stated that these are "spiritual issues".
"We say we are a Christian nation, let us be...If we start forgetting God we will pay the price," Dr. Pickering stated.