KINGSTON, Jamaica, April 23, 2008 – The Jamaica government has approved casino gambling.
The announcement came yesterday from Prime Minister Bruce Golding who revealed that the revenues from casino operations will be placed in a special fund to finance capital development in health, education and security.
He said the decision was taken on the heels of a report, prepared in consultation with Price Waterhouse Coopers of Canada, which suggested that “casino gaming would be a very viable industry for Jamaica and has significant potential for direct and indirect employment”.
“The issue of casinos has been a lightning rod of controversy for a long time. We have tiptoed around the issue, not wanting to be embroiled in the controversy. We have sneaked up on the issue while proclaiming our opposition to it,” he said in his maiden budget speech.
“There are those who I know disagree with casino gaming. I respect their views. The fact is that horse bolted through the gate a long time ago with the granting of licences for hundreds of gaming machines.”
The prime minister said a team has been established to recommend the appropriate regulatory framework and tax regime to govern the operation of casinos.
“In the meanwhile, the government has approved proposals from the developers of the Palmyra Resort and Spa, operating under a company known as Celebration Jamaica Ltd., for a major new investment predicated on the granting of a casino licence,” Mr Golding said.
“This investment involves the development of a 65 acre property adjoining the existing Palmyra Resort at Rose Hall and consisting of 2,080 new hotel rooms. The project will involve a total investment of US$1.8 billion.”
However, he revealed that in order for that proposal to be committed to agreement, government will have to renegotiate the terms of the agreement with the Tavistock Group which was partnering with government through a specially formed company called Harmonization Ltd. for the development of the Harmony Cove project in Trelawny, a large upscale project on 2,300 acres with total investment of US$4-5 billion and the construction of some 4,500 rooms.
“We had to renegotiate the terms of the agreement with the Tavistock Group in respect of Harmony Cove. This was so because under the agreement entered into with the previous administration, Harmony Cove would have enjoyed an exclusive licence to operate gaming machines within a 10 mile radius of any border of Trelawny. This exclusive zone encompasses Rose Hall,” Mr Golding revealed.
“I am in a position to advise that based on our undertaking that it will also be allowed to operate a casino, Tavistock has agreed to restrict its exclusivity to allow for an agreement to be signed with Celebration Jamaica and by an exchange of letters the Heads of Agreement have been amended accordingly.”
He added that the amended agreement also involves Tavistock increasing the size of the project from 4,500 rooms to 8,500 rooms with an additional investment of US$1-2 billion.
The Jamaican leader however made it clear that applications for casino licences will only be considered if all conditions are met.
These include a minimum investment of US$1.5 billion and the construction of not less than 1,000 rooms; that the casino component be no more than 20 per cent of the total project; that operators of the casino be subject to the approval of the government after appropriate due diligence including fit and proper tests and evaluation of track record; and an appropriate regulatory framework with the necessary legislation and enforcement mechanism is in place.
“We will ensure that best practices are observed and that only reputable companies with proven integrity are allowed to operate in Jamaica,” Mr Golding assured.