(CNS): The Cayman Islands Government posted a flurry of legislation to its Gazettes website Wednesday, ahead of next month’s Legislative Assembly meeting, including a bill that will increase the penalties for illegal gambling, as the authorities move to clamp down on a growing problem that fuels other crimes. Although the bill provides for heavier punishments for those running illegal ‘numbers’ rackets, gamblers, many whom suffer from addiction, will also face a hefty punishment, despite government’s acknowledgement that it is a “chronic problem”.
The Gambling (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which is now open for final public consultation before the LA debate in November, increases the penalties for engaging in acts of illegal gambling and allows government to seize assets under the Proceeds of Crime Law for those convicted.
The bill provides for an increase in fines for those convicted of running gambling rings from $400 to a whopping $10,000, and for the term of imprisonment to increase from one year to three years. Meanwhile, gamblers will also see the current $10 fine leap to $2,500 or a possible six-month jail term.
In a press release about the legislative clampdown, government said the aim was to make the penalties more of a deterrent.
“While illegal gambling has been a chronic problem in the Cayman Islands, the penalties have not undergone a revision since the first enactment of the Gambling Law in 1964. As such, in today’s climate, they do not properly reflect the gravity of this type of illegal activity,” officials said.
Government believes that, given the profit illegal ‘numbers’ can generate, the current penalties have not been “persuasive enough to serve as a deterrent to past and would-be offenders”, which is said to have caused a problem for law enforcement.
“Police intelligence reports between 2015 and 2018 show that there has been a steady increase in the number of incidents involving persons engaged in different forms of illegal gambling activities. This includes what is colloquially referred to as ‘numbers’ or lottery,” officials stated. “These statistics also suggest a strong connection between certain crimes and gambling activities. This is evidenced by the number of reported robberies, including firearm related robberies, assaults and other violent crimes, that have been proven to be gambling related.”
Given the perceived link between underground gambling and other crimes, government said it “would be prudent to generally impose higher penalties for engaging in any form of illegal gambling”.
Officials also hope the stiffer fines will deter people from allowing their premises to be used to facilitate any type of illegal gambling.
Cabinet has also approved amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Law to identify specified offences under the Gambling Law as criminal lifestyle offences, enabling the government to seize assets of the racketeers. “By so doing, government recognises that the illegal gains derived from gambling can be used to support a criminal lifestyle from which a defendant may benefit,” officials stated.
However, government has made no move to address the issue of online gambling, which is now extremely common and believed to be where most Caymanians and residents spend the bulk of their gambling money. It is not clear if anyone found gambling online could be charged under this new legislation.
The decision to focus on the illegal local numbers games, which are usually based on national lotteries in countries like Jamaica and Honduras, was made because it is at least possible to find those organising the collection and payment of cash, which is often conducted at local stores, in or around bars, or in private homes.
Over the years, the question of introducing a legal national lottery to fund good causes has been debated on and off by politicians. The PPM has consistently opposed the idea of paving the way for legal gambling while the CDP, formerly UDP, has always been less opposed, not least as a result of the leader’s enjoyment of casinos when he is overseas.
The 2009-2012 UDP administration considered the possibility of legalising some form of gambling and even suggested it would hold a referendum on the topic. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller has on numerous occasions voiced his support for a legal national lottery.