Jamaica’s Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, announced on April 22 that the government of Jamaica had decided to permit the licensing of casinos. The announcement came during the Budget Debate presentation to the members of the Cabinet and the Minister of State and Parliamentary Secretaries.
But despite the decision, Jamaica is not looking to become a casino destination.
During an exclusive pre-opening lunch for tour operators attending the recent Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) in Kingston, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said, “We are looking at the casinos as being a value-added element. Jamaica will never be a casino destination. You will never see stand-alone casinos dominating the landscape. We are being very careful in regard to the policy.”
Artist's rendering of the upscale Harmony Cove project.
He noted, “The qualifier for new projects will be either 1,000 rooms or $1.5 billion in investment, and gaming will be no more than 20 percent of the entire experience. The strategy is to increase the visitor spend.”
Bartlett said he has been to Dubai seeking investors for a project in Jamaica that will draw visitors.
“We believe Jamaica needs something iconic that makes visitors feel special when they come here,” he says. “I’ve gone to Dubai for investment because they have the Burj Al Arab tower and they are building the Palms, and then the World, and then the Universe.”
Agreements with two investors have been approved for major developments involving more than 6,000 new hotel rooms and $2.8 billion in investment.
Tavistock Group, already developing Harmony Cove (a large upscale project on 2,300 acres with a total investment of $4 billion to $5 billion and 4,500 rooms), will offer gaming and has agreed to increase the size of its project from 4,500 rooms to 8,500 rooms with an additional investment of $1 billion to $2 billion. These will be configured in a cluster of nine hotels with an array of facilities and amenities.
The government has also approved proposals from the developers of the Palmyra Resort and Spa, operating under a company known as Celebration Jamaica Ltd., for a major new investment predicated on the granting of a casino license. This investment involves the development of a 65-acre property adjoining the existing Palmyra Resort at Rose Hall and consisting of 2,080 new hotel rooms. The project will involve a total investment of $1.8 billion.
“Jamaica will ensure that best practices are observed and that only reputable companies with proven integrity will be allowed to operate in Jamaica,” says Director of Tourism Basil Smith. “It is the government’s intention to dedicate the revenues from casino operations to a special fund to finance capital development in health, education and security.”
When completed, Harmony Cove will feature several luxury resort hotels, with at least 2,000 rooms, a spa and fitness center, several championship golf courses, an equestrian center, a water park and a large-scale marina with shops, restaurants, nightclubs and a wide range of amenities.
Preliminary design work for Harmony Cove is already underway and Tavistock Group and Harmonisation Ltd. hope to break ground in 2009.
Time will tell what kind of an impact Jamaica’s new gambling laws will have on the destination, but one thing’s for sure: Islands without casinos may soon be something of the past.