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Govt, Gaming and Tourism officials say: Casino Will Diversify Island’s Tourism Product

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Contact: Prime Minister's Press Secretary

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - The Prime Minister, the Minister of Tourism and the heads of two related institutions have all come out in support of the government’s decision to grant a licence to an American-based operator to establish the island’s first casino.

The PM, the minister, the Chairman of the St. Lucia Gaming Authority (SLGA) and the Executive Vice President of the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) have been setting the record straight after criticism by a former prime minister and a leading Catholic priest.

Leader of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) Sir John Compton, last week called on churches and those opposed to a casino to protest the granting of the Gaming Operators License to Treasure Bay (St. Lucia) Ltd to open the island’s first casino.

Approached by the press for a response, Catholic priest Fr. Michel Fr.ancis said casino gambling “said the church’s silence was by no means consent and reiterated his belief that the presence of a casino in St. Lucia “will do untold damage to the island’s social fabric.”

He said research had been undertaken by the churches in Barbados on the impact of casinos on the island, which had proven that “the negative effects far outweighed the politics, and they voted against it.”

Fr. Fr.ancis also claimed that the church’s research had shown that “in the USA, our neighbour, where casinos are located, many communities were driven away” because of them.

He said protest by the church at this time would be somewhat ineffective, since the government had the legal authority to grant licenses.

The priest felt, however, that there was “not enough fair debate” before the law was passed.
But Chairman of the St. Lucia Gaming Authority, Mr. Lisle Chase, does not agree.

Mr. Chase, a chartered accountant who is also CEO of the Financial Centre Corporation of St. Lucia, insists that the authority granted the license “in keeping with the law” and that “procedures were observed every step of the way.”

He pointed out that “from the beginning, advertisements had been placed in the local press indicating a license had been applied for and inviting persons desirous of objecting to the granting of such a license to write and inform the Secretary to the Board of the Authority.”

Those advertisements, he indicated, were followed by others inviting persons who had submitted objections to a special meeting of the Gaming Authority at the NIC Building in Castries on June 22, 2005.
That meeting had been convened specifically “for the purpose of considering the application by Treasure Bay (St. Lucia) Limited for a Gaming Operators License.”

Mr. Chase also indicated that subsequent to the application by the US-based operator, the required due diligence was pursued before a license was granted last year.

Last week, Sir John issued a press statement after receiving a faxed copy of an article from the St. Croix Avis newspaper, quoting Treasure Bay officials as saying they will be beginning to construct the hotel here on 15,000 square feet of land later this year. The article also quoted the company’s local lawyer, Mr. Peter Foster, as acknowledging the project was on the cards.

Approached by the press, Prime Minister Anthony acknowledged the Authority had granted an Operators License to the applicant to operate the island’s first “stand alone” casino. He said this matter had been addressed before in official addresses to parliament and tourism policy speeches by himself and the Minister of Tourism and the license was granted only after “due diligence was observed and the letter of the law was followed.”.

The Tourism Minister, for his part, accused Sir John of “playing politics” with the casino issue. Asked to comment, Mr. Pierre, who was Acting Prime Minister at the time, said the government “had complied in full with the laws” in considering the application.

The SLHTA Executive Vice President, Mr. Terrence Gustave, while being “aware of the concerns” expressed by others, reflected the historical view of his association, that a casino would be welcome, as it would help “diversify the island’s tourism product.”

Mr. Gustave took issue with the claim that the presence of a casino here would destroy or harm the island’s social fabric or add to or worsen its social ills.

Saying that “all the island’s social ills cannot be blamed on tourism,” he pointed out that research had shown that “while most visitors don’t come to St. Lucia based on whether there is a casino on the island or not, most who come would visit a casino if one existed here.”

Mr. Pierre, the Minister of Tourism, indicated that the license granted to treasure Bay “is governed by a Cabinet Conclusion which requires that the operations of the casino “shall be subject to periodic independent professional review” in order to ensure the terms and conditions of the license were carried out in full.

He said he understood the reiteration of the church’s long-held position, but lamented that “Sir John Compton is playing politics with the issue.”

Mr. Pierre recalled that when asked what his position was regarding the opening of a casino here, Sir John made it clear that he was “not opposed to casinos and not interested in the moral argument.”

All he was interested in, Sir John said, was “the fact that those who made noise before are silent now.”
“It’s all part of his policy of engaging in political mischief,” said Mr. Pierre of Sir John’s call on the churches to “speak out.”

Prior to 1997, the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP), under the leadership of Julian R. Hunte, opposed the introduction of casinos to St. Lucia. But this policy changed after the party won the 1997 general election under the leadership of Dr Kenny Anthony.

The current Labour administration introduced the Gaming Authority Control Act in 2000 and it was amended in 2003.

Treasure Bay is the first applicant to have been issued a gaming license.

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