Casinos Coming to Jamaica

Another Caribbean nation is preparing to join the list of countries that will offer both guests and locals a full-service casino, complete with table games: Jamaica.

Jamaica, an island of 2.7 million people, has offered slot machines at hotel lounges for many years now. However, church groups have long opposed roulette and other table games on the island until this opposition was recently overturned.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding led the government to approve new casino legislation earlier this year. This new legislation argued that casinos in large resort projects would entice investors, draw in more guests, spur the economy, and create additional jobs for locals.

Regulations are now being drafted for the new casino law. The government hopes to complete the writing of the rules this year and begin to issue its casino licenses next year, according to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett.

The new casinos will only be allowed to be developed at mixed-use facilities that contain a minimum of 1,000 guest rooms and at least $1 billion invested in the project. Additionally, the casino operations can make up no more than 20% of the new venture.

So far, two groups have expressed interest in developing casinos in the country, but their ability to follow through on this interest is dependant on their access to capital in the tight credit market. One potential investor is the Tavistock Group of Windermere, Florida. Tavistock Group plans to develop the Harmony Cove project over 2,300 acres on Jamaica’s north coast. This project could result in over 4,000 rooms and cost most than $4 billion.

The second potential investor is the Celebration Jamaica group, which would expand on its existing Palmyra resort in Montego Bay. The expansion would add 1,500 rooms and cost around $1.8 billion.

Bartlett believes that only a few casinos will ultimately end up operating in Jamaica, due to the large investments required. The Jamaican government views casinos as an amenity for visitors, not the main way to attract guests to the island.

If the casino licenses are approved next year, it will probably take at least 18 months to build the new casinos, resulting in the first casino starting its operations in 2013.

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