Picture a big resort in Jamaica with many facilities and hundreds of happy visitors

So many governmental jurisdictions are looking to become land based casino hubs, and to regulate online casinos as well, all for the purpose of generating a lot of tax revenue, that it comes as a surprise that the Minister of Tourism of the tiny island nation of Jamaica, Edmund Bartlett, announced that Jamaica would not become a casino magnet for tourists or for locals.

This announcement comes despite the understanding that the first land based casino in Jamaica will likely be ready to open its doors in 2020.  Slots Play Casinos is reporting this news item because it relates directly to the conundrum that many jurisdictions have with regard to land based casinos.

Land Based Casinos Can be a Double Edged Sword

There is still the feeling that land based casinos bring in their wake higher crime, drugs, and many other social ills.  This is the primary reason that Singapore initiated the Integrated Resort concept which is being copied in many other countries and localities. 

For those readers who are not yet familiar with the Integrated Resort idea, it basically means that the casino is an adjunct to a resort with conference halls, water parks, hotels suitable for families, activities for children, excellent restaurants, theaters, spa, and more.

Online Casinos Offer Pure Fun

This contrasts with online casinos, which need make none of the investments many land based casinos need to make to be acceptable to local governments and citizens.  The result of being able to offer just online gaming as an entertainment is that online casinos can offer far more in the way of games, tournaments, casino bonuses and the like.

Minister Bartlett’s Remarks

Edmund Bartlett spoke at a seminar with a very long name: Hospitality Industry and Casino Operators’ Guide to Managing US Liabilities from the Caribbean.  Minister Bartlett said that the new casino would add about 2% to the Jamaican economy.  He then made a very important statement that echoed the above observations about land based casinos and recognized Jamaica’s small size as a deterrence to going all in on land based casino gaming.

He said, “We have shied away from gaming as a structured path of the tourism experience for a long time for a number of reasons, one of which has been the experiences that we have looked at in other places, and we have seen some of the attendant negatives, and we question very much whether or not we would be able ourselves to manage and be able to deal with the negative impact of it.”

Reading between the Lines

There was some political gobbledygook in the Minister’s remarks but the gist of what he was saying was clear.

  • Jamaica wants some casino gaming but not too much.
  • Jamaica understands that there is a connection between having a land based casino and being able to host more tourists.
  • Jamaica is leery of putting too high an emphasis on casino gaming as a draw to new tourists.
  • Jamaica feels that it doesn’t have the means to deal with the negative side of land based gaming if the gaming becomes the attraction.
  • That means that Jamaica taken as a whole has to remain the primary attraction to growth in the local tourist industry.

Making Jamaica the Attraction

That leads inevitably to how the local tourist industry can market Jamaica and attract new visitors.  Last year over four million people came to Jamaica and they did so knowing that there wasn’t a casino. 

Bartlett then went straight to the Integrated Resort model with these remarks: “The fact is that casino gaming for Jamaica is not a requirement for our growth, but within the context of the integrated development model, casino gaming is a driver for exponential growth, so we do not see Jamaica ever becoming a casino destination, but rather a destination in which casino gaming is available.” 

Bartlett said that he envisioned the casinos—in the end, there will be three licensed casinos—would generate no more than 20% of all new business growth and that the Integrated Resort would generate the remaining 80% through all of its other facilities.  He specifically mentioned that a casino would need to invest $1 billion and build a very large hotel to earn a gaming license.  He also added that, as Jamaica is an island, the resorts would have to offer a “sea experience”.

Points to Consider

Some questions remain. 

  • Would the three casinos each have its own hotel?
  • Would all three have to be the same size as a minimum or could one be much larger than the others?
  • Would the resorts share some facilities such as theaters and shopping malls?
  • Where would the resorts be located in terms of distance from each other and from the international airport?
  • Can Jamaica support three casinos?
  • Would there be any protection for local businesses that already offer high end restaurants, excellent shopping, local music concerts, and deep sea fishing?

Jamaican Attitude toward Gambling

Jamaica gave provisional approval to two land based casinos back in 2015 but no real progress has yet been made on those projects.  There was talk about quickly approving online gaming just last year but that, too, has fallen by the wayside.  Jamaica remains a very religious community and it could very well be that the island’s population by itself can’t sustain any land based casinos at all.

If that proves to be the case, then the Jamaican Ministry of Tourism will have to market the casinos that will be built at high cost.  It may prove unsavory for the government to do so.

Jamaica has long proven to be a satisfactory draw for tourists in and of itself.  The goal of having the first casino resort ready to open by the beginning of 2020 seems extravagant.  Billion dollar projects don’t generally go up in a single year.

After all is said and done, Jamaica needs to generate more tax revenue than it does now.  Whether the means to do so is an Integrated Resort with a casino or an Integrated Resort without a casino remains to be seen.  Despite the Minister’s statement, we are really no closer to knowing the outcome now than we were before.