By Dashan Hendricks
Jamaica is seeking to come late to the casino gaming industry and the timing may not be the best. In 2010, after years of talks and debate, The Casino Gaming Act was passed by both the upper and lower houses of Parliament. Regulations relating to the industry were gazetted in 2012 and requests from interested parties to operate the facilities were opened shortly after.
A look at the casino industry worldwide shows consolidation and downsizing. Atlantic City in New Jersey, USA has seen a reduction in the number of casino's within its city limits. Macau in China has seen its own decline. Even Las Vegas, the mecca of the global casino industry, has seen its own decline as new facilities are opened across the United States, and those who would normally fly half-way across that country for gambling, stay closer to home. The ravages of the "Great Recession" of 2008 have not helped either. Neither has e-based gambling. Online casinos, some regulated and others which are not - are also widely available. It means the novelty that gambling was in the early 1990s and before, no longer exists.
An understanding of that realty was shown in the push by Jamaica to not only go after facilities set up just for casino gaming. The push is for integrated resorts - a copy of the Singaporean model for casino gaming with facilities involved also set up to provide non-gambling entertainment such as shopping, conventions, entertainment, banqueting, hotels and restaurants. It’s a model Singapore followed when it opened its first casino in 2010. It's one which has seen the average spend of visitors to its casino (integrated) resorts outstrip that of high rolling Las Vegas.
The issues highlighted could make you wonder whether Jamaica, as "Johnny come lately" in this industry, will be able to first grow then survive. Or could Jamaica hit the jackpot as Singapore did? Doing so will take meticulous planning and execution. It would take marketing to convince tourists to book a flight to Jamaica to gamble, when they have similar facilities close to home. Making resorts more than just gambling stops will help in that regard.
But while an announcement has been made that at least one of the bidders for the integrated resort licences in Jamaica will be breaking ground next year, one cannot discount the issues which have dogged another bidder in getting off the ground and wonder if the dying nature of casinos has influenced its outcome so far. In fact, both Harmonisation Limited and Celebration Jamaica were deemed to be in breach of the time set to break ground on their resorts. Both have indicated they will break ground next year.
But are they breaking ground on a dying concept or will they strike gold? The examples of casinos seeing decline in established gambling centres should make the proponents of that model in Jamaica nervous. Add to that, issues of money laundering and terrorist financing which have to be taken seriously in the 21st century beset by those bent on crime and terrorism. It all makes for an interesting few years ahead for Jamaica's attempt to diversify its tourism offerings with the offer of casino gaming.
Dashan Hendricks is RJR's Group Business Editor