Casino commission requests double FY 2005 budget - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

Casino Control Commission Chairwoman Eileen Petersen, left, and Executive Director Debra Hemmings Audain testify Friday during a budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee at the Legislature on St. Croix.

ST. CROIX - The Casino Control Commission presented a $1.3 million Fiscal Year 2006 budget to the Senate Finance Committee Friday, almost $400,000 higher than Gov. Charles Turnbulls recommendation and $650,000 more than the commission was appropriated in Fiscal Year 2005.

Casino Control Commission Chairwoman Eileen Petersen said she never received a copy of the governors recommendation and was unaware of his $925,000 recommendation for the commissions FY 2006 budget.

The $1,308,848 million budget includes $795,500 for personnel costs, $204,448 for fringe benefits, $41,500 for supplies, $18,000 for utilities, $16,000 for capital outlay, and $233,400 for other services and charges. Other services and charges includes $82,000 for rent, $30,000 for travel, $25,000 for professional services and miscellaneous items.

The commission projects revenues of $3.17 million from fees and taxes from the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino, as well licensing and other fees.

Petersen defended the $1.3 million saying the commissions regulatory responsibilities continued to rise without realistic and adequate financial support and resources.

The commission must employ casino inspectors who must be present at the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino, the territorys only casino, at all times when it is operating, in accordance with the Casino Control Act, she said.

The inspectors are also required to verify revenues, receive complaints from the public and be the eyes and ears of the commission. They must work weekends and holidays and perform other daily assignments.

The commission employs just two inspectors to carry these duties, both of whom do not receive overtime pay although they often work past their eight-hour shifts, Petersen said. In some instances, the commissioners themselves must fill in when both inspectors are unavailable.

"In order to function as specified in the law, the Casino Control Commission would need at least two additional inspectors," she said.

Petersen said the commission also needs to fill two vacant commissioner positions and hire an audit inspector and secretary.

"The current and consistent lack of adequate staffing will definitely affect the commissions ability to capably fulfill" its duties, she said.

Petersen added that the government has failed to carry out its law mandating that the V.I. Tourism Department promote St. Croix as a site for casino hotel investment. The law require that 5 percent of the Casino Revolving Fund be given to the Tourism Department to market to potential casino hotel investors.

"The ability of the commission to generate revenue and be a self-supporting agency is directly linked to the existence and number of casino investors in this gaming jurisdiction," Petersen said. "We are certain that St. Croixs gaming industry would have been closer to expectations and projections had there been an agency responsible for marketing the gaming industry and thereafter the island as a reputable gaming destination."

Petersen asked that 5 percent of the Casino Revolving Fund be split between the V.I. Tourism Department and the Economic Development Authority or be turned over in its entirety to the EDA.

Committee Chairman Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste and members Sen. Terrence Nelson, Sen. Usie Richards, and Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville heard testimony. Committee members Sen. Roosevelt David, Sen. Neville James and Sen. Adlah Donastorg Jr. were absent.

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