Developer: Island needs to decide on gaming
Bermuda needs to make a decision on whether to allow gaming as soon as possible in order for tourism to move forward, according to hotel developer Craig Christensen.
Mr Christensen, who heads up the company developing a $2 billion resort at Morgan’s Point, said that uncertainty over whether casinos should be allowed to operate put Bermuda “in the worst possible position”.
The question of whether to make gambling legal has been hotly debated in recent years, with supporters claiming that it could help revive a flagging tourism industry.
Earlier this month Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell said he supported the legalisation of gaming, but said Government still planned to hold a referendum because the question “should ultimately be decided by the people of the country”. The Minister added that Government plans to hold the referendum this year.
Mr Christensen said Government needed to act soon in order for potential developers to know exactly what their options are when considering Bermuda as a place to invest.
He added that while gambling was not “a magic bullet”, it would enhance Bermuda’s overall product, giving visitors one more option on their list of things to do on the Island, and also provide jobs for Bermudians.
And he said it would also broaden the options of developers seeking brands to run their hotels.
Morgan’s Point Ltd is hoping to break ground on the first of three hotels on the site by the end of the year. A boutique hotel is expected to open in 2016 before work on a 500-room hotel gets underway. A marina and golf course are also planned for the resort over the next five years.
Mr Christensen pointed out that the Bahamian Government amended its gambling laws in order to allow a $3.5 billion development to go ahead.
“Their main concern was to ensure that they had jobs for Bahamians, not only in the development stage but also in the operational stage,” Mr Christensen said
“If that meant they got a $3.5 billion development and 7,000 people in work afterwards they were willing to accommodate that.
“In my discussions with major, casino-branded hotels, what always comes up is that Bermuda is really in the worst position with gaming. We’ve been talking about it, but we really do need to say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at some point, because uncertainty is the worst position we can be in. Uncertainty doesn’t help accelerate the way developers can think about doing new developments on Island. It’s a case of ‘if yes, great, if no, at least we know what you’re doing’.
“We’ve been spinning our wheels here trying to figure out what to do, but while were looking at financing, gaming has been a very key component talking to investors. We’ve actually had investors walk away because of vacillating on this issue.
“I wouldn’t suggest that it’s a magic bullet but what it would do for tourism is provide a few options. Anything to help product is beneficial and people always look to gaming as an amenity. In terms of amenities, we have many of them but we’re just not managing those amenities particularly well.”
After attending the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Conference in Miami earlier this month, Mr Crockwell said: “It became crystal clear to me at the CHRIS conference that we are no longer considered players in the hotel investment arena. As a country we must decide if we want to be in the tourism business or not.”