The recent opening of Pinnacle Entertainment’s casino in Emerald Bay, Exuma is just the first of what may turn out to be many such enterprises popping up throughout the Family Islands.
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said as much yesterday when he revealed that requests have already been made for casinos in Bimini, Abaco and Eleuthera.
„Of course, the government might agree in the Heads of Agreement, but we would have to wait until such time when that application is actually made,“ he said.
„It was in the late 1980s and early 1990s that an application was expected from San Salvador for Club Med, but it never came. So, while an agreement might follow for it, we would have to wait until an application is in fact made.“
Minister Wilchcombe again stressed the need for Bahamians to own more of the tourism pie.
„Once we are able to get into the ownership of casinos and hotels and work with brands, it’s going to make our tourism industry that more dynamic and give us greater leverage. We would also not be as dependent on the foreign investor once Bahamians get the same opportunities enabling them to invest in the tourism industry. We certainly encourage that,“ Minister Wilchcombe said during an interview with the Bahama Journal on Thursday.
„…Eleuthera is going to be a fascinating, historic location when a casino opens there because in the Heads of Agreement for the property being developed by Mr. Franklyn Wilson, there is the possibility for a casino. When that happens, Mr. Wilson would be the first Bahamian to have invested in the ownership of a casino.“
Minister Wilchcombe’s comments came while lauding this week’s opening of Pinnacle Entertainment’s casino.
It’s now the first island in The Bahamas that has a casino outside of New Providence and Grand Bahama
According to the Tourism Minister, the 5,000 square foot setting marks an historical chapter for the local tourism industry.
The setting, which features approximately 65 slot machines and eight gaming tables, opened months after Bahamian regulators granted approval for the enterprise. But according to Minister Wilchcombe, the opening came on time.
„They had projected an opening for April/May. So we’re very pleased. It’s setting precedent. I think it was many years ago that there was a casino in Cat Cay, but I think this casino in Exuma is going to nurture and benefit the entire community and certainly it’s good to add to the opportunities being offered to the many high-end tourists coming into the island,“ the Minister said.
The Minister was also pleased that the casino has been „Bahamianized“ almost immediately.
„Over the years, we have seen a gradual decline in the number of foreigners working in the casinos to the point where we can open a casino in Exuma today, where they have employed 47 people and only two are non-Bahamians and that’s two managers,“ he said.
„And so we have come a long way in providing opportunities and it has also been able to assist in areas where we have had some difficulty in Grand Bahama following the closure of the Royal Oasis.
„Many of those employees have been able to move on into Exuma. And so you do have a change of patterns in The Bahamas where previously Bahamians would not have wanted to travel to the Family Islands for employment, but it’s now happening. I believe it’s going to cause for our country to be that much dynamic. So, I am very pleased that Pinnacle had the vision to recognize this.“
Secretary at the Gaming Board, B.K. Bonamy, was equally pleased with the added amenity, as was Pinnacle Entertainment’s Regional Vice President for southern states for the Caribbean and General Manager of Casino Operations in New Orleans, David Williams.
„This is big relief,“ Mr. Williams said.
„Many people worked hard. We had wonderful cooperation from the Bahamian Gaming Board. We struggled with initial designs and construction because of the remoteness of the island and we were not accustomed to the inherent delays involved as well as the shipping quantities of materials etc., but it was a lot of hard work from a lot of individuals that brought this together.“
The casino is expected to attract even more tourists to the island, some of whom have already purchased second homes there.
„It’s too early to tell how business is doing right now. The Memorial Day weekend business is going to be the test. We’re going to see what happens,“ Minister Wilchcombe said.
Exuma’s casino is not the only such enterprise Pinnacle Entertainment owns and operates.
The Las Vegas-based company has similar affiliations with casinos in Nevada, Louisiana, Indiana, Argentina, owns a hotel in Missouri, receives lease income from a card club casino in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and owns a casino site and has significant insurance claims related to a hurricane damaged casino previously operated in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Prime Minister Perry Christie is scheduled to officially open the Exuma casino on June 12.