Atlantis boss open to Bahamians gambling in casino - Tuesday 11th of August 2009

With the Atlantis Resort & Casino suffering a downturn in business, President and Managing Director of Kerzner International Bahamas Ltd. George Markantonis told Guardian Business he would be open to the idea of locals being able to gamble at the property.

But Markantonis said he realizes the idea is a controversial one.

He said Kerzner International fully supports a list of recommendations made to the government by The Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA) to ease stringent requirements on gaming. The proposal, however, does not call for the government to make it legal for Bahamians to gamble in local casinos. The association has asked the government to widen the net of people who can gamble legally, including permanent residents and people on short term work permits.

Markantonis said there is a need for an urgent review of the regulations to make The Bahamas a more competitive gaming jurisdiction.

"There were some recommendations made and we contributed to those recommendations," he said in a recent interview at his Paradise Island office. "I think any new segments of potential business that could be opened up would be useful for the casinos, whether its permanent residents or legal residents or whether its all Bahamian citizens. It is a complicated and controversial subject. Id like to see more people allowed to game in the local casinos, but I realize there are two sides to this story, or certainly two opinions."

He said Atlantis has been hurt substantially by gaming in Florida and Pennsylvania.

"The minute that table games were allowed to be installed at the Seminole Indian casinos, the Hard Rock Casinos in Florida, and gaming was added into all the race tracks in Florida, it certainly impacted us here because people from Florida who used to come down every weekend for a little fling, now instead of every weekend maybe theyd come once every two months because its easier to just drive from their house down the street, so weve really been impacted there," Markantonis said.

He said that in some cases the recommendations made by the BHA would be just enough to keep the casino at Atlantis operating on an even keel.

"You have big jurisdictions like Atlantic City that are suffering very, very, badly. In their case, in Atlantic City, also because they have been tied down with very stringent regulations and frankly theyve strangled the industry," Markantonis said.

The Kerzner presidents statements were similar to statements made to The Guardian in late May by Baha Mar CEO Sarkis Izmirlian, whose development company also backs the BHA proposal.

"It happens everywhere in The Bahamas," Izmirlian said, referring to gambling. "You might as well legalize it and let the government benefit from those tax revenues."

Asked whether he would welcome Bahamians gambling in his casino, Izmirlian said he already welcomes Bahamians everywhere on the properties at Cable Beach.

"One thing that weve done, not just in the design of Baha Mar, but in the hotels today, is weve tried to embrace the community," he said. "I feel that some of the other resorts have turned their backs a little bit on Bahamians and some didnt even use the word Bahamas in their advertising. Were different from that; not only did we embrace the design and culture, but we want Bahamians to come in our resort."

Izmirlian said there are very few jurisdictions that dont welcome locals in casinos.

He added that gaming in The Bahamas continues to be hurt by outdated laws that fail to make the jurisdiction competitive.

"Our gaming laws in The Bahamas are just not competitive versus other jurisdictions in the U.S. and other places in the world, and we really need urgently to address our gaming regulations here in The Bahamas," he said at the time.

"Its a detailed list of recommendations which we believe should be implemented as soon as possible. We need to be competitive on the types of games we can offer [and] how quickly we can implement new games as they become available on the market. And we also need to realize that there are certain residents here, whether its permanent residents or others, who should be allowed to gamble."

BHA President Robert Sands said yesterday the government has committed to appointing a task force to review the recommendations made to ease gaming restrictions.

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