EDITORIAL - Rolling the dice on casino project

Published: Tuesday | November 13, 2012 Comments 0

The Senate's approval of regulations to govern the operations of casinos has been the latest movement in a slow dance with destiny.

That the regulations have been passed more than two years after the Casino Gaming Act was given the green light is emblematic of the legislative constipation that defines the Jamaican Parliament and its penchant to dawdle and dither on the altar of opportunity.

Senator Noel Sloley, last Friday, delivered a fitting judgement on the pace and passion of Jamaican lawmaking: "It is as if we are afraid of success. ... Our implementation level does not match up to our announcement level."

While Jamaican lawmakers have talked and talked, other Caribbean governments, such as The Bahamas, have stuffed their coffers with cash.

Even though tourist arrivals to Jamaica rose by 20 per cent between December 15, 2011 and April 15 this year, there is still room for exponential growth. The winter season boon was largely boosted by a 55 per cent jump in cruise-ship arrivals, a tourism subsector whose spend may lag behind land-based stopover visitors.

The religious Right has been a consistent opponent of casino gaming, which it views as having a corrosive effect on family values and the national work ethic. But such jeremiads are not grounded in indisputable fact, especially if legislation is backed up by enforcement.

Even Francis Tulloch, politician-cum-Roman Catholic deacon, recognises that the economic windfall which can be generated by casino developments, in mega resort complexes, trumps religious dogma. The taxation and job-creation benefits from casino investments could be a shot in the arm for Jamaica's wobbly economy.

The macroeconomic data are a collage of confusion and chaos. Jamaica has a near 13 per cent jobless rate. Government debt is running at $1.68 trillion. Net international reserves have slumped to US$1 billion, or 13 weeks of imports, just a week shy of the international benchmark. The Jamaican dollar is moving at Bolt speed to beyond a record $91. At the end of July, consumer confidence had dipped by roughly 25 per cent and business confidence nosedived by nearly a third.

NEEDED: ambulance of investments

The economic health of the Jamaican State is in crisis and demands an ambulance of investments. To be clear, this newspaper does not hold the view that casinos are the panacea for the Jamaican economy; however, such ventures are part of a diverse mix for an investment renaissance. The result: more investments, more jobs, more confidence and more commerce.

However, there are other concerns.

Two hotels which seemed set to embark on multibillion-dollar casino investments on the north coast have gone off the rails. Palmyra, in Montego Bay, has been sucked into a receivership maelstrom. And construction of the Tavistock Group's much-touted Harmony Cove, in gestation for half a decade, will begin next year, with completion set for 2023.

Aside from the Fiesta Group, the queue for casino investments isn't exactly around the block. Effectively, the tourism and investment ministries will have to shop around to woo sufficient investors to make casinos worth a roll of the dice.

We hope that legislative flaws regarding corporate partnerships, and procedural waivers by ministerial fiat, be reconsidered as well.

If the casino project isn't properly managed, the predicted 33,000 new related jobs will be nothing more than a gamble in the dark. Jamaica's destiny is in the balance.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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