THE JOURNEY OF CRAIG FLOWERS THE GRAND MASTER OF BAHAMIAN GAMING
Craig Flowers has in his own indomitable, humble fashion embedded his name, legacy and values into the modern history of The Bahamas.
From growing up around his father’s Laundromat and other businesses in the inner city of Nassau to flying commercial jets in Mu’ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī”s Libya, and finding time to play and inspire a generation of Bahamian golfers, Mr. Flowers is eager to salute the other Bahamian giants in the Gaming Industry on whose shoulders he proudly stands.
CRAIG FLOWERS RETURNS HOME AS A DECORATED COMMERCIAL PILOT IN LIBYA TO SNATCH VICTORY FROM THE JAWS OF DEFEAT AND ESTABLISH BAHAMIAN OWNED GAMING.
For more than a century Bahamians supported an underground and illegal numbers or lottery business. Police raids and arrests. Dishonest bookies who disappeared with a customer’s winnings. The owners of these businesses; like Father Allen, Laverne Bowe Stuart, Percy Munnings, Gene Toote, Cecil Gonzalez were all pillars of the community and respected philanthropists and loaned monies at minimal interests rates to keep Bahamians on their feet.
When the decorated Bahamian Pilot Craig Flowers returned home from commercial jet flying in Colonel Mohmar Ghaddafi’s Libya, the business reached a new fevered pitch.
Craig’s dad, Arnold Flowers anchored the family’s fortunes in a chain of laundromats or wash houses across the over the hill or inner city. Craig tells the story of how Ms. Robinson, a kind friendly matriarch of the Market Street north community would often complain about the abuse suffered at the hands of dishonest bookie. It moved Craig to jump into the business with the single lofty goal of ensuring that no winning bet went unpaid and dishonest bookies were exposed and ferreted out of the system.
The local gaming business had previously conducted itself off individual platforms of the various owners. Each one “threw” their own lottery two ball- from single 1 to 100. Hence the whispered question through the day on the jitney stop, in the office, the straw market or the popular fish man’s dock at Potters Cay under the Paradise Island bridge was :- ‘what Percy do?’; You hear from Toote throw yet?’, “what fall in Bowe?’
Flowers and Cecil Gonzalez who operated at Dowdeswell Street in eastern New Providence were experimenting with changing the local platform to the lottery draws in the individual states of the United States of America.
Now the new talk was:-“What fall in Miami?’, “Chicago bring the triple 7 right back”, “I got a $1 box on the four ball in Miami”.
What made this platform even more engaging to Bahamian patrons was the legitimacy of the USA draws. Bahamians could put in their number, hold their tickets and watch the live draw of any lottery on Cable television.
Padding balls which was a fear in the old system and removing certain balls from the draw bag was now out of the window.
With Bahamians having this unusually close fiduciary link to Florida or as we call it “Miami” the Florida Lottery with its weekly draw of millions of dollars in a turn over pool was even more appealing. Gene Toote left Nassau every Friday morning on the red eye flight to transact hundreds of lottery tickets for Bahamians. When Toote arrived at Lums Restaurant down town after 7pm on Fridays hundreds of Bahamians were queued up to retrieve their tickets. Toote made $5 dollars off every five card entry ticket.
Cecil Gonzalez had a colorful history with local horse racing. With hundreds of Bahamians who for more than forty years earned a living at the now closed Hobby Horse Hall race track, Gonzalez had technicians give him a live feed from Calder and Gulfstream Horse tracks daily and Bahamians packed into his theatre at Dowdeswell Street to bet on the races.
The digital and electronic age had caught up with the old system of writing numbers on paper and keeping bets stored and tabulated on a bet spread sheet.
Flowers invested in an electronic platform and patrons could apply to become a card carrying member, be given a log in code which was personal and private to the player and numbers or bets could be placed on line.
Winnings automatically were credited to accounts at these Web Shops.
Yet the business was still illegal. Patrons risked it while always having to look over their shoulder. Unscrupulous police shook down bettors and Web Shop operators.
POLICE RAIDS WERE COLORFUL
On a busy Monday evening while scores of bettors were assembling at Gonzalez’s parlor came the wail of a fire engine siren. Scores of uniformed “firemen” on the back of fire trucks screaming up the street. The lead fire truck halts a few doors down from the parlor and Firemen get off as if they are searching for a Fire Hydrant. Bettors are offering advice and moving their vehicles to give the Fire trucks space.
Baps. Scores of fireman rush the parlor. Announce it is Police Raid. Gonzalez electronic equipment is confiscated. The bettors are all arrested and Police buses now arrive to cart them off for processing at the Police Stations all over the island.
In most Web Shops the dawn of the commercial bank ATM machine gives bettors another chance to withdraw their winnings rather than tow a cashier’s line at the Web Shop.
The Police are now raiding Web Shops and confiscating the ATMs- hundreds of thousands of dollars stored in these systems.
Concerned citizens were pressing the Free National Movement FNM Government led by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham to legalize the Web Shops. Ingraham began making overtures to the public to suggest this was under positive consideration. And then he caved to the religious right wing lobby.
Perry Christie and the PLP are returned to office in the 2012 general elections and The Bahamas is in the cross hairs of the international financial world which was raising concerns about transactional transparency on the financial system with the “illegal” numbers business able to get their monies into commercial banks and the very present danger of how more dirtier monies could be washed in this system.
Christie decided to act. But he appeared to suggest that while his Government would go to Referendum for the Bahamian people to decide on the legalization of Web Shop gaming and the Government’s introduction of a National Lottery; he had “no horse in the race.”
These cautionary words may have sealed the fate of the Referendum’s result.
AGE AINT NOTHING BUT A NUMBER
Mr. Flowers has taken his enterprise across the border. Everybody Wins is in Haiti and looking at other eastern Caribbean destinations. This proves the sustainability of this industry and the acumen and diligence Bahamians put into it.
It’s all about giving even more back to the Bahamian people.
Mr. Flowers purchased prime West Bay Street properties which were once the Ocean Spray Hotel. He constructed an ultra-modern multi floor level office complex, nicely placed in a court yard landscaped with an ever green lush golf course lawn.
A lover of Bahamian talent, he commissioned a bronze statue of Ronnie Butler, considered the 20th century virtuoso of Bahamian music which sits on the compound.
Ronnie Butler’s last big hit was a duet with the late perennial Count Bernardino, “Age Aint Nothing but a number”.
Craig Flowers can attest to this.
My vision is all of the Operators to commit a percentage of their income to a fund which will be placed in a new Bahamian owned bank and those funds will be made available to Bahamians for housing and consumer loans at very attractive interest rates,” he says.
“Everybody wins,” he says in his velvet voice.