Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding took the occasion of the 2008/09 budget debate in the House of Representatives last month to formally announce the government’s decision to allow casinos in Jamaica.
Golding went on to reveal that the government has already entered into an agreement with the developers of the Palmyra Resort & Spa at Rose Hall, operating under the name Celebration Jamaica Limited, to build the Caribbean island nation’s first casino resort. The $1.8 billion project will feature a 75,000-square-foot casino and sports book, a hotel with 1,500 of the 2,080 total new rooms, restaurants, meeting space, retail space, a spa, state-of-the-art disco and other amenities.
The resort will be built on 65 acres in Rose Hall, St. James, adjacent to the existing Palmyra Resort & Spa. Across the road are Jamaica’s three championship golf courses. The site includes approximately one kilometer of beachfront property, and is less than 15 minutes from Montego Bay International Airport.
Dennis Constanzo, president of the Palmyra Resort & Spa, said, “The casino is just a fraction of the investment. We want to build a world-class destination, which will result in the creation of thousands and thousands of jobs.”
The project surpasses the official minimum requirements for casino development, which are:
• minimum investment of US$1.5 billion;
• construction of no less than 1,000 hotel rooms; and
• casino component no more than 20 percent of total project.
The prime minister also spoke of some changes to a project agreed upon earlier with the Tavistock Group. Tavistock will increase the size of its Harmony Cove development from 4,500 rooms to 8,500 rooms and invest an additional $1 billion to $2 billion.
Said Golding, “These will be configured in a cluster of nine hotels with a stupendous array of facilities and amenities.”º
Tavistock also agreed to changes to its previously negotiated arrangement regarding slot machines. The company got an exclusive license from the previous administration to operate slots within a 10-mile radius of Harmony Cove. This would have blocked further development in the desirable region, which includes Rose Hall.
Also last month, the Jamaica Observer reported that an unnamed local hotel operator is interested in applying for a casino license, but does not meet the minimum requirement of 1,000 rooms. The operator does have the required $1.5 billion to invest, according to the report.
Wayne Cummings, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, would not reveal the name of the operator, who is hoping for a review of the requirements or to be grandfathered in under existing rules.
“We have always existed in Jamaica on a smaller scale, but now a main avenue of investment may have been opened up, and there are people who may want to consider it,” said Cummings. He spoke of “an opportunity for investment which should be taken advantage of by Jamaicans and others.”
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett may have hinted at a way around the problem while speaking about the potential for a license for the top-end properties being developed at the eastern end of the island. Bartlett said the requirement concerning the number of rooms could also include villas spread across a property, and did not necessarily refer to a hotel tower.