Isle of Capri Casino to close

Executives of the Isle of Capri corporate office in Biloxi, Mississippi, have announced that a year from now, they will cease operations in Grand Bahama.

Jill Haynes, director of Corporate Communication, said the purpose for terminating operations on June 1, 2007 is to enable the company to focus more on its core properties in the United States.

In a telephone interview with The Freeport News, Ms. Haynes disclosed that when the casino closes next year, employees will be entitled to severance pay as governed by the company’s normal separation policy or termination of workers.

„According to my understanding, the employees will be given severance pay as mandated by the law as long as they are still employed with the casino until the time that it closes,“ she said.

She noted that if employees obtain a new job during the course of the year or before the June 1 deadline, they will not be entitled to severance pay.

Ms. Haynes was quick to point out that Hurricane Katrina had no bearing on the company’s decision to close the casino.

With Isle of Capri being the only casino now operating on the island, calls were made to Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe yesterday to ascertain how such a move could impact the tourism product of Grand Bahama. Those calls went unanswered.

The Isle of Capri casino had won widespread praise in the aftermath of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne for continuing to pay full salaries to all of its employees while the casino was closed as a result of the closure of the adjacent Westin and Sheraton at Our Lucaya – from which it drew most of its customers – due to damages caused by the storms. Moreover, employees were also given performance based bonus cheques to make their Yuletide holidays brighter the following year.

Through all of its hardships, Isle of Capri executives were adamant of the gaming operation continuing business in Grand Bahama.

In July of last year, a drastic decrease in the net profit between the 2004 and 2005 fiscal year at the Isle of Capri Casino resulted in the casino making the „tough decision“ of having to downsize its staff by 13 percent.

Isle of Capri Casino Vice-president and General Manager Eddie Llambias declared the decision to cut 45 of the casino’s 337 employees boiled down to two things: Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. The storms, Mr. Llambias said, have left the island in limbo, with the casino suffering a $ 2.4-million loss last fiscal year as a result.

Mr. Llambias noted that all avenues had been exhausted before it was concluded that employee percentage would have to be downsized.

Later that year in September, Mr. Llambias said that in order for the casino to continue operating in Grand Bahama, two major components had to be achieved.

Mr. Llambias‘ statement came following a meeting with the casino’s staff which triggered rumours that the casino was about to close. He later explained that the meeting was held to notify employees of the company’s position regarding operations.

He revealed during that time how the company had brought to the government’s attention, the need to have continued marketing support and would appreciate the government taking a look at a reduced tax rate in order for them to run a viable operation.

He noted then that the situation had reached a point where the board of directors for the company needed to make a decision about the casino’s future in Grand Bahama.

He said that after several deadlines were not met, the casino staff were appraised of the concerns.

During the meeting, he reportedly gave them a very truthful account of the status of the operation and the communication executives had been having with Govern-ment — mainly the Hotel Corporation and the Ministry of Tourism — regarding the situation.

Mr. Llambias said even after a series of meetings, some with a promised solution to the dilemma, nothing was done

Several employees of Isle of Capri later voiced their views on the matter calling on the government to step-up and explain what it was prepared to do to assist Bahamians employed at the gaming company.

In an interview with The Freeport News, the employees said they were very concerned about their jobs at the casino, fearing that they would become laid off like the workers at the Royal Oasis.

Following Mr. Llambias‘ statements, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe admitted that the Government had met all of its responsibilities agreed upon since the casino opened its doors in December 2003.

Minister Wilchcombe, who was attending the groundbreaking ceremony of Old Bahama Bay’s USD 585 million expansion project that same month, said one of the agreements made between the government and Isle of Capri executives was that talks would remain among themselves regarding the company’s request for a decrease in taxes.

Closing next year — Isle of Capri, the only casino in operation on Grand Bahama, will be closing its doors on June 1, 2007. Making this announcement yesterday, executives of the company said they are ceasing operations in Freeport to enable the company to focus more on its core properties in the United States.