Bahamas Casinos Face Challenges

Casinos in The Bahamas are facing a major challenge from the legalization of gaming in the US, the top man at Atlantis has revealed, saying recommendations put to the government on the future of gambling in the islands are critical.

George Markantonis, President/Managing Director, Kerzner International Bahamas, said traditional gambling destinations had suffered as state after state in the US moved to allow gaming and casinos in a bid to tap into new tax revenues.

Speaking to The Nassau Guardian, he said: "The casino spend per occupied room is about the same as it has always been so we are not having any big differences there.

"The issue that our casino faces is that with the legalization of gaming across many of the states in North America we are starting to see a decline in the spend coming from Florida, New York, New Jersey.

"The casinos in Florida now have table games and slots, they are advancing them across the racetracks. Philadelphia has opened several casinos, not the least of which was the Sands Bethlehem in the last six months, and in fact the state of Pennsylvania has announced that they had more income from gaming in December than Atlantic City. Who would have ever thought that, Pennsylvania isn't your first thought for a gaming destination.

"Even Atlantic City has been badly hurt because you have got all the Indian tribes which are getting casinos, Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun.

"I think that's going to get tougher and tougher for us because the 50 states in the United States need to find new sources of income, taxes to build schools, roads etc.

"The legalization of casinos one by one is going to impact our business because if you just have to drive down the street to go to a casino why would you go all the way to the airport, spend an hour and a half going through security, fly somewhere, go through customs and immigration just to go to a casino? That's going to be a challenge for us."

Recently The Nassau Guardian reported how the committee formed to comprehensively examine the feasibility of amending the country's gaming laws, to allow permanent residents to gamble in casinos, is no way near to completing its work, Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace confirmed.

The committee, which comprises tourism stakeholders and government officials, was formed six months ago.

Last year, Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA) President Robert Sands said the BHA supported a national lottery and the amendment of the gaming laws to allow permanent residents to gamble in casinos in The Bahamas.

Bahamian citizens and permanent residents are prohibited from gambling under the current law. However, tourists are allowed to gamble.

Atlantis was one of the properties which submitted recommendations on the future of gaming in The Bahamas to the government some months ago, and Markantonis said that discussion was "critical".

He said: "We haven't heard anything new, because of the sensitivity of the subject I'm not surprised that it is taking a lot of discussion and a lot of time to be fair.

"But I have to tell you I think the recommendations put forward are critical to the survival of gaming, or at least to keep us competitive with our North American neighbors.

"I know it's a complicated issue, it's certainly a much more political and social discussion and Atlantis wouldn't put itself in the middle of trying to force those issues one way or another. That is something the government has to look at every way, but I think it's important.

"Everything is always urgent but at the same time whatever we agree to do we're going to have to live with so I respect the fact that the government is taking its time to ensure whatever decisions are made are the right ones."

Source: The Nassau Guardian