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Two hotels set to undergo fit-and-proper checks for casinos

The Jamaican Government wants consultants to vet two casino applicants – Hardrock Jamaica Limited and Inco Land-Princess Hotels – according to tender document from the Ministry of Finance.

The hotels were named on a tender seeking consultants to vet hotel chains and their moguls as part of the process to eventually operate a licensed casino in Jamaica.

“The consultant is expected to examine all the entities that comprise the Hard Rock Jamaica Limited. In addition, its qualifiers are required to be investigated,” the document stated.

It said the same of Inco Land-Princess Hotels.

A qualifier is an individual, partner or company who holds directly or indirectly 5.0 per cent or more of the voting shares of the applicant, according to the tender document titled ‘Procurement of Consultancy Services to Undertake Due Diligence Exercise for the Approved Integrated Resort Development (AIRD) Applicants for the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service’.

Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The consultant will undertake the international due diligence activities relating to the applicants to determine their fit-and-proper status, including “integrity and financial soundness checks”.

The bidders are vying for an AIRD order from the finance ministry as a precondition for applying for a casino licence from the Casino Gaming Commission. The casino law allows for the issuance of three licences.

The Casino Gaming Act was passed in 2010, but none of the approved integrated resort developers – namely the late Robert Trotta’s Celebration Jamaica Limited; and Harmony Cove Limited, a partnership of the Government of Jamaica and Tavistock Group – managed to get their projects off the ground. As such, no casino licence has ever been issued.

In October 2021, the finance ministry issued a new request for applications for AIRDs, having slashed the minimum eligibility criteria in half, from 2,000 to 1,000 rooms, and requiring a minimum investment of US$500 million. The move was influenced by the changes in the global economy arising from the pandemic, but it also came in the wake of prior complaints from prospective investors that the original conditions were too onerous.

“The room reduction allows for consideration of those facilities already under construction prior to the making of the application. The decision to amend the Casino Gaming Act emerged from the goal of attracting investments in the country and increasing economic activity as part of recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the tourism sector,” said the tender.

The Mexican-owned Hardrock Hotel & Casino development aims to spend US$800 million to build 1,100 rooms. The Spanish-owned Princess Hotel plans to spend US$500 million to set up a 2,000-room resort on a 73-hectare, or 180-acre, property.

The next steps will see the enterprise team, appointed by the Minister of Finance, evaluating the applications and then making recommendations to Clarke on the applicants that meet the requirements for an AIRD. Thereafter, the Cabinet will have final say on the applications.

An applicant that has been awarded an AIRD order is entitled to apply to the Casino Gaming Commission for a casino gaming licence.

The enterprise team will evaluate applications based on the proposed development; contribution to economic development; feasibility and financial strength and experience of developers; and due diligence checks on the beneficial owners, as part of the latest tender for consultants. The enterprise team will also rely on auditing and advisory firm Ernst & Young for the technical evaluation of the applicants.

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