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Uncertainty surrounds future of St Regis casino

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Owners of the St Regis Hotel and a representative of their proposed casino operator met David Burt, the Premier, and Vance Campbell, the Minister of Tourism in January (Photograph supplied)

Serious questions have been raised about the future of plans to create a casino at the St Regis Hotel after owners of the resort were unable to say whether or not the project was going ahead.

A decision by the prestigious vacation venue to end its bid to set up a gambling hub would be a major blow to one of the Government’s key economic aims of creating a casino culture on the island.

Such a move would follow in the wake of the collapse of an initiative to set up a casino at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club in January, which had been expected to generate 100 jobs.

Asked by The Royal Gazette if the casino bid had been abandoned, or stalled, a spokeswoman for Hotelco, which owns the St Regis Hotel, declined to comment.

A spokesman for Butterfield Bank told The Royal Gazette: “We never comment on specific relationships for reasons of client confidentiality.

“Questions about a casino at the St Regis should be directed to the hotel and the Bermuda Gaming Commission.”

The Government and the BGC have both failed to respond to requests from The Royal Gazette for clarification regarding the situation.

Creating a casino sector has been identified by the Government as one of four key engines of economic recovery.

Of the other three proposed triggers for increased prosperity for the island, vertical farming is in suspension after a foreign investor pulled out, the Tynes Bay waste plant has needed emergency aid to avert a “catastrophe” according to the Government and the proposed regeneration of North East Hamilton will take years to complete.

Mr Burt has made the creation of a casino industry a signature policy of his administration, announcing sweeping changes to legislation regulating the sector last month.

The Premier loosened long-standing controls on what type of casino would be allowed on the island by choosing to let the BGC consider a variety of options submitted by would-be operators.

But, industry figures have long argued that foreign involvement, particularly from required US correspondent banks, is being put off by the appearance of a lack of independence for the BGC.

Mr Burt, who is also the Minister of Finance, announced that gaming would fall under that government department earlier this year instead of being led by a minister appointed by the Premier.

A well placed industry insider told The Royal Gazette: “The number one obstacle to attracting foreign interest in casinos on the island is that the Premier and Minister of Finance are the same person and have influence over the BGC.”

Crunch talks were held between the owners of the St Regis hotel and a representative of their proposed casino operator with the Premier and Vance Campbell, the Minister of Tourism, at the end of January after the failure of the Hamilton Princess gaming bid.

At the time a government spokesman described the meeting as “frank and extremely useful”.

The Premier said after the meeting: “I continue to be impressed by the commitment of St Regis to introducing a casino at the hotel and our discussion examined legislative and practical ways to achieve that shared goal.

“The idle and irresponsible media speculation around gaming has failed to change the owner’s positive outlook for a casino at the property.

The St Regis Bermuda Resort

“It is ridiculous to suggest that the Government has not invested time and effort into achieving gaming for Bermuda.

“We have met with banks, worked with hoteliers, responding positively to the economic realities of the pandemic, compounded by the delays in gaming licensing, and conferred with the commission’s executive team on striking the necessary balance between encouraging gaming and doing so with an appropriate regulatory regime.

“In all this we have been determined to understand and act on issues that have delayed gaming for Bermuda.

“With the renewed commitment to a casino we heard from St Regis and their casino operator, those efforts will continue as we collaborate with all parties to deliver on this economic imperative for Bermuda.”

The St Regis, in St George’s, was granted the island’s first casino licence in October, but no date was announced for an opening.

Earlier this year, Century Casinos pulled out of plans to develop a casino at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club after being involved in the efforts for eight years.

Peter Hoetzinger, Century’s president and chief executive, said that with the existing legislative framework, the company could not foresee the project being completed in a reasonable time, if at all.

The hotel added that it halted a search for a new operator pending “a clearer road map from the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission on a viable path forward to seeing a casino open its doors”.

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Published March 31, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated March 31, 2023 at 9:30 am)

Uncertainty surrounds future of St Regis casino

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