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Island keeps an eye on Caribbean hotel and gaming initiatives

Local hoteliers and tourism officials have been watching Bermuda's island neighbours in the Caribbean, where major hotel developments have taken place.

In the Bahamas, the $3.5 billion Baha Mar Resort is set to open in December 2014 with 284 residences included in their single-phase resort.

Gaming Commission chairman John Jefferis is convinced the top-of-the-line gaming-focused development project would have never happened without gaming.

“It won't be just one hotel property, it will be a number of branded hotel properties. And without the gaming component it's very unlikely that project would have become a reality,” he said.

Considered to be the only project big enough to overshadow the Atlantis resort, the Baha Mar sits on 1,000 acres of property on New Providence Island's Cable Beach area.

The Baha Mar Casino is the centrepiece of the development with 1,000 guest rooms and a 100,000-square-foot casino said to rival casinos in Las Vegas.

The hotels involved will have a mix of Colonial, European and African architecture with a total of 3,000 hotel rooms.

Other features include a 50-foot circular waterfall, two spas, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus championship golf course, 200,000 square feet of meeting space, 3,000 feet of beachfront, chef-branded restaurants, a retail village and entertainment venues.

The residences fill the three hotels and prices start at $1.5 million, although owners can rent their homes for up to 365 days per year.

Caribbean hotels experienced a second consecutive year of double-digit increases this year, marking the highest growth in profits since 2008.

Although profits are still not back to pre-recession levels, the overall outlook is positive.

As Bermuda prepares for a referendum on gaming, in the Bahamas officials are grappling with the issue of outdated gaming laws.

Chief Compliance Officer at Baha Mar, Uri Clinton, holds the view that “a modern regulatory gaming regime is key in securing a fair share in the international market and allowing operators to compete on a level playing field”.

Mr Clinton is one of the keynote speakers due to address an upcoming Bahamas Tourism Conference on “Shrinking the Global Divide: Synergy, Service and Sustainability”.

The two-day conference begins on September 18 at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort.

Mr Clinton believes regulations that support the oversight of gaming operations that also allow the operator the flexibility to provide gaming products is the way forward.

Prime Minister Perry Christie has already conceded that a revised legislative regime is needed to regulate the country's casino sector.

With the advent of online gaming, Mr Clinton anticipates new robust revenue streams that will “smooth out some of the seasonality” that comes with the gaming business.

He told The Bahamas Weekly: “In-play sports betting is not available on the east coast, not available in Florida. So, people in Florida can take a 30-minute flight to come and bet on the Super Bowl, and to do so in a way that is legal, in a way that incorporates the tax advantages from The Bahamas, and in way that provides them with an entertainment option that they could not get in their home jurisdiction, and that is one of the reasons why it is so critical that we actually get this new legislation passed.”

The Prime Minister, who is also a corporate gaming attorney, established the Central Division legal department for Caesars Entertainment Inc which provides legal support for 11 casinos that generate over $1.3 billion in gaming revenue.

While the debate on legalised online gaming rages on, gambling in the Bahamas is still illegal for Bahamians.

Anyone of any other nationality however, can come to the Bahamas to gamble.

As for the Bermuda electorate, Mr Jefferis said the question of whether Bermudians should be allowed to gamble in Bermuda should be put on the referendum.

But he said: “It shouldn't be a part of the decision making process on gaming,” he said.

It should be used as a gauge for knowledge on the issue in his view.

In more general terms he said the committee's opinion on the general structure of the gaming industry in Bermuda “is based loosely on the Monaco model.

“That is, probably one iconic custom built casino, with the hotels being able to participate,” said Mr Jefferis.

On the small size of Bermuda he said: “There would certainly have to be a limitation on the number of casinos that would be allowed to operate.”

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Published August 30, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 30, 2013 at 12:28 am)

Island keeps an eye on Caribbean hotel and gaming initiatives

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