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Gaming ship managers claim they were encouraged by Govt Ministers

The casino ship

Niobe Corinthian was bought after support and encouragement from Government Ministers, but left high and dry after failing to get around Bermuda’s strict laws on gaming.

That was the claim from the ship’s managers, Wise Way Enterprises, who issued a statement yesterday. It’s the first time the company has spoken publicly about the legal woes of the ship, which was bought in 2003. It was intended to host gaming events in international waters 12 miles offshore using machines imported prior to the 2001 ban, but has been left tethered to a dock in St David’s due to a string of court cases.

The vessel was raided by police in August 2006, shortly after it began operating, and its then captain Fermin Reyes, from Panama, and manager George Kezas, from Bermuda, were arrested.

The men were charged and later convicted of illegally importing the gaming machines on the ship into Bermuda and were fined $15,000 and $12,000 respectively.

The ship was again raided by police in September 2008. Ten people were arrested after officers found there was gambling onboard. No charges were pressed but a halt was called on the ship’s operations.

Earlier this month, the ship’s crew obtained an order from the Supreme Court that the vessel be sold at auction in order to pay wages they are owed.

Yesterday’s statement from Wise Way said the

Niobe Corinthian was introduced to Bermuda “as an entertainment and gaming ship not only to help enhance our tourist industry in 2003, but also for the locals to enjoy”.

It added: “Prior to the purchase of the ship, a meeting was held with the principal owner of the ship and the then Ministers of Tourism and Transport regarding the feasibility of the venture. They were supportive, and thought it would be a great idea, and the Minister of Transport even went so far [as] stating that he would do a press release. [That] never happened. Unfortunately there was nothing signed, but a gentleman’s handshake and trust. We did receive permission to operate 12 miles off the Bermuda shores. We made three trips which were a disaster due to the high rolling seas, which in turn caused our customers to become sick.”

Former Premier and Minister of Tourism and Transport Ewart Brown tried to relax Bermuda’s anti-gambling laws but was thwarted by opposition from the church and members of his own party. Government MPs blocked an attempted law change last year to allow gambling on cruise ships when they are in port.

The Wise Way statement said: “We have been requesting from the previous Premier over the last two years to please reduce our operating zone from 12 miles to three nautical miles offshore by way of e-mails, phone calls and meetings without success.

“We were then asked by the Premier to get a legal opinion on whether this decision could be made as a matter of policy or law. We complied, and the opinion pointed out to him that he could grant us this permission by using his ministerial discretion, not only as the Minister of Tourism but as Premier.

“The opinion was delivered by hand to the Cabinet Office for him, as well as a copy to the then Attorney General to the Attorney General’s office. Needless to say, it was a complete shock, surprise, unbelievable and [a] disappointment when the Premier endeavoured to pass a bill in the House of Assembly allowing the cruise ships to open their casinos at the dock when they were requesting only three miles off shore [and were] ready to go.”

Now, the ship is in the hands of the Supreme Court, waiting to be sold at auction to pay off its debts, having failed to launch the business it planned to operate.

Cheryl Simmons, who released the statement to

The Royal Gazette on behalf of Wise Way Enterprises, commented: “In my opinion, with what we have been going through since the boat landed in Bermuda, I don’t think we have been treated fairly.”

Police officers Det. Contable Paul Ridley (left) and Inspector Nicolas Pedro (right) unloading from a police truck some of the 100 gaming machine that was seized from the NioBe Corinthian as the court case against George Kezas for illegally importing them on his gambling ship continuesPhoto David Skinner

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Published August 26, 2011 at 10:21 am (Updated August 26, 2011 at 10:21 am)

Gaming ship managers claim they were encouraged by Govt Ministers

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