By Raffique Shah
October 26, 2017
It says so much about this country, about the national psyche, when, in the wake of a budget that will impact the cost of living almost across the board, reducing people’s purchasing power, the most vociferous protests are coming from gambling establishments that add nothing productive to the economy, but enrich a handful of casino owners, pauperise thousands of families, reduce many female gamblers to prostitutes, and provide the biggest avenue for laundering the ill-gotten gains of criminal enterprises, in particular money from the illicit drugs and firearms trades.
The taxi operators who provide an essential service, and who have faced increase fuel costs from the moment Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced new gasoline and diesel prices, have hinted at increases in fares, but otherwise remained relatively mute. Truckers have stayed silent. Corporate Trinidad and Tobago, which will now pay more tax on profits, have voiced their concerns in a reasoned manner at several post-Budget forums.
But none of these legitimate stakeholders have been as vociferous, I dare say as cantankerous, as the managers and employees of the gambling houses, which are euphemistically called the “gaming industry”: industry my foot! Note well, those at the forefront of the protests are the employees, never the faceless owners. Note too that they are almost all women, and their cry is that they face retrenchment because of the 100 percent increase in taxes or license fees imposed by Government.
As a human being, especially one with compassion for the poor and downtrodden in society, I feel for any and every one who loses his or her job because of the state of the economy. It must be beyond traumatic to turn up to work one day and be told by your boss that you no longer have a job, whatever the reason. How do you feed yourself and your family? What of the rent, your children’s education, hell, your very existence?
So I sympathise with the casino employees who claim to have lost their jobs, even as I harbor doubts about their claims. I insert this caveat because I don’t know that the new taxes kicked in the way increased fuel prices did. I have a nagging feeling that their protests have been orchestrated by the owners who have decided to use the only sympathy-card they have—the threat of loss of jobs that will affect mainly young, black women, many of whom claim to be single parents.
What none of them will say is that their job-specifications include inducing foolish people to part with their sometimes hard-earned salaries on card tables or slot machines, which is in fact banditry with consent. They who are seeking public sympathy will never speak of the thousands, of gullible women who all but live at these establishments, throwing their savings, housekeeping money, even their children’s allowances after the ever-elusive jackpots.
The protestors will never speak of patrons who are addicted to gambling to the extent that when their cash runs out they sell their bodies to get more money to fatten the casino owners’ bulging bank accounts. The workers won’t talk about owners lending money to desperate gamblers, using vehicles and real estate as collateral, and mercilessly seizing them when the addicts predictably lose at the machines or tables.
Nor will they dare mention the shady men and women who routinely turn up with huge amounts of cash, and who are happy to leave with half their initial outlays-newly laundered dollars. That the source of such money was a drugs deal or an illegal firearms sale, veritable blood money, is of no concern to the casino workers who are seeking our sympathy.
To tell me that people will gamble anyway, casinos or no casinos, is like telling me we will always have drug addicts, bandits and murderers among us. It is fact, but we do not have to resign ourselves to coexisting with evil. Too many lives have been ruined inside these expensively-decorated, lavishly-furnished houses of dubious repute.
As far as I am concerned, Government can apply 100 percent taxes to the earnings and winnings of all forms of gambling—the National Lotteries Control Board’s games included. The latter have negatively affected the national work ethic like no other factor: all day, every day, big “hardback” men (and women!) only “playing ah mark”.
Lease agricultural lands to the casino workers, give them the opportunity to contribute to a real industry—food production. Or give them seed capital to go downstream, making in their kitchens hard-to-find, nutritious delicacies such as tooloom, tamarind balls, paw paw candy and many more local treats. These, and other, similar business ventures can be much more rewarding than what they are paid to pick foolish gamblers’ pockets at casinos.
And don’t they dare tell me they “cyah take de sun” planting peas in Cumuto or selling sweets on Charlotte Street. They marched up and down the streets of Port of Spain in blazing sun and pouring rain, pursuing their bosses’ interests. Here’s an opportunity for them to get a real life, to be mistresses of their own destiny.