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Hilton closes Puerto Rico hotel casino amid economic crisis

Published:Friday | July 24, 2015 | 3:33 PM

One of Puerto Rico's biggest and best-known casinos closed Wednesday after 40 years of operation in another blow to the United States territory's

struggling economy.

The Condado Plaza Hilton laid off 144 workers from the seaside casino located in the popular tourist district of Condado, managing director Raul Bustamente told the Associated Press. He said the closure follows a 40 per cent drop in the use of slot machines over the past decade.

The former 24-hour casino, which opened in 1975, is likely to be turned into a ballroom, he said in a phone interview.

"We now want to focus on areas where we've had good business - rooms and banquets," Bustamante said.

Puerto Rico's Hotel and Tourism Association said it is the seventh casino to close in the past five years on the island of 3.5 million people, which is entering its ninth year of recession and is struggling with a 12.6 per cent unemployment rate.

Gambling taxes represent the majority of revenue for Puerto Rico's Tourism Company, which is responsible for promoting the island. A portion of that revenue also goes to the University of Puerto Rico, the island's largest public university.

"This is a significant impact," tourism association president Miguel Vega said in a statement.

Government officials have said previous casino closures caused a US$6 million drop in revenue.

Critics in part blame the closures on an estimated 45,000 illegal gambling machines that operate across the island, with the government seizing hundreds of machines in occasional raids.

About 90 per cent of casino clients in Puerto Rico are locals, not tourists, according to the Hotel and Tourism Association. There are currently 20 casinos now operating on the island.

- AP