BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
LUCEA, Hanover — DIMITRIS Kosvogiannis, country manager for the Spanish hotel chain Fiesta, has cautioned that the proposed US$250-million expansion at the Grand Palladium Resort in Point, Lucea, will not be undertaken unless the group obtains a licence to operate a casino at the resort.
"We do think that the casino is much more than a physical structure and we also think that as it is today, without a casino, the construction of the rooms of that magnitude — about 800 — is not realistic within this economic environment," Kosvogiannis said.
"Casinos attract junkets, which are groups of gamblers with specific destinations, and obviously those gamblers need to stay in the room, consume the services of the hotel... so without it (the casino), we see it as very unrealistic in the current economic environment to just build rooms and wait for some abstract date to obtain a casino licence," he explained.
He argued that the granting of a casino licence is tied to "so many aspects of Jamaica's economic future that we are steadfast and very firm in our desire to claim such".
Apart from a casino, the proposed expansion involves the construction of 245 luxurious ocean-side royal suites and roughly 550 regular suites. It also includes a state-of-the-art convention centre and entertainment facility as well as a golf course.
Late last year, both Houses of Parliament gave the nod of approval for prospective developers of approved integrated resorts in Jamaica to apply for licences to operate casinos within these establishments.
The issuing of casino gaming licences is facilitated under the Casino Gaming Act, as an incentive for the establishment of a prescribed number of large integrated resort developments in the country. Integrated resorts are developments featuring a range of amenities, such as hotels, convention facilities, entertainment shows, themed attractions, and luxury retail and fine dining, which are incorporated with casino gaming.
Under the Act, which was passed in 2010 after years of deliberations, no more than three integrated resort developments, with licenced facilities for casino gaming, will be allowed to operate in Jamaica.
Kosvogiannis, who was speaking in a telephone interview with the Observer West earlier this week, blasted successive governments for the long delay in the passage of the act, which he claimed is still inadequate.
"We do believe that there was an unnecessary delay in the way the government — not just this administration but the previous one — has handled this matter. It has been before Parliament many, many years ago and today we still don't have a well-defined legislation. We do have some aspects that we can proceed on, but it's not really the entire package that we would have liked to see," he argued.
Kosvogiannis said he hopes to meet with representatives of the Ministry of Finance by the end of this month, in a bid to have aspects of the legislation clarified.
"We have several questions. We believe that the law does not speak to every aspect of the licencing procedure and that we will take up with the relevant government ministry," he charged, adding that casinos will attract an enormous number of visitors to the island and will generate a large amount of income.
He stressed that without the granting of a casino licence, the Fiesta group will have to "review, reconsider and reorganise their plan forward".
"My instruction is to obtain a casino licence and I am working assiduously on that. It is one of the two conditions that if satisfied, the construction will start right away. If it is not satisfied, then based on my understanding, the owners of the hotel will have to review the entire relationship with their investment ideas going forward," he explained.
The other condition, Kosvogiannis said, was to obtain a licence from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for the development of a beach at the property to accommodate the planned expansion.
Such a licence, he noted, was recently granted and the development of a miniature model of the actual project is now underway at the property.
Some 2,000 people are expected to get jobs during the construction period of the planned expansion of the resort, while a further 1,200 will be permanently employed after the massive expansion programme.
The Grand Palladium Hotel was opened in July 2008, after a ground-breaking ceremony two years earlier. The resort, which has 1,050 rooms, currently employs 1,100 people.