SleepIn opens casino - Stabroek News
Wednesday 2nd December 2020
The SleepIn Hotel opened the doors of its Carnival Casino yesterday -- one day after being licensed to operate by the Gaming Authority.
The official startup of the Church Street casino marked the culmination of a years-long campaign by the hotel for licensing, which was rejected twice by the Gaming Authority under the former APNU+AFC administration, prompting a lawsuit to force the body to process its applications. Residents in the area had also campaigned against a licence for the casino.
"I am happy to confirm that after years and years of wait... we got the licence," SleepIn proprietor Clifton Bacchus told Stabroek News yesterday when contacted.
He had previously said that he was preparing to open in anticipation of a favourable response from the newly composed Authority over the past four months. He said yesterday that with a number of applications on file, there was an initial staff quota of 150 persons.
Bacchus added that at a time when it is near to Christmas, he was excited to be able to offer employment to persons, who can take care of their families. There was no formal opening but patrons of the hotel were invited to use the facility yesterday.
In October, new Gaming Authority Chairman Manniram Prashad had said that the agency was sorting out what it had "inherited from the past Gaming Authority management" but promised that licences would be addressed in due course. "We are sorting out stuff first and looking at some other issues. It is a systematic process and we are working," he added.
Efforts to contact Prashad yesterday were futile as calls to his mobile and landline phones went unanswered.
Prashad was appointed Head of the Gaming Authority in early September and Bacchus did not waste time in engaging it on the process that saw him apply three times and move to the court.
It is unclear if he was given a positive commitment from the agency then but Bacchus had started furnishing the establishment in mid-September.
"We have not gotten a licence but we will continue to plan, hoping for the best," Bacchus had told this newspaper when previously contacted.
He had lamented the years-long wait, which saw his partners Pasha Global in 2018 repossess gaming machines as it became uncertain about licensing.
Bacchus moved to the courts seeking to compel the Gaming Authority to "consider" and "determine" an application made by the hotel since 2017 for a Casino Premises Licence and a Casino Operator's Licence.
In December of last year, Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln ruled in the establishment's favour and ordered the Gaming Authority to consider, process, and determine an application for the two licences.
In court filings seen by Stabroek News, the hotel claimed that although it submitted the last of the documents and materials requested by the Authority since February 28th, 2018, it had not been granted the licences, and the staff of the authority had not offered an update or explanation as to the status of its applications.
The application made by SleepIn when it took the Gaming Authority to court had noted that while the Gaming Prevention Act and its attendant subsidiary legislation do not prescribe a period within which applications are to be considered and determined, the Interpretation and General Clauses Act provides that, in such cases, action must be taken "with all convenient speed."
In 2015, SleepIn and the Guyana Office for Investment concluded a Memo-randum of Understanding (MoU) under which the latter pledged, subject to the approval of the president, to facilitate a casino operator's licence to SleepIn provided that it constructed a minimum of 155 rooms at its hotel.
The hotel claimed to have performed its obligations under the MoU, and on August 6, 2016, applied to the authority to be issued with a casino operator's licence, paying the required fee of $9 million. This application was refused, reportedly owing to deficiencies in the hotel's operations.
Having rectified these deficiencies, SleepIn made another application on April 5th, 2017, once again paying the $9 million fee.
Officials close to the establishment had reasoned that the sloth in the processing of the application was politically-motivated because the casino's principal was represented by PPP executive and current Attorney General Anil Nandlall. The then Head of the Gaming Authority is current APNU+AFC parliamentarian and shadow minister of legal affairs, Roysdale Forde.
When Forde was contacted yesterday he said that up to the beginning of this year the agency felt that "there was insufficient documentation to support the application"
He said that it would "be interesting to know if the gaming authority received any further documents to support such an applicant". If the Gaming Authority did, he said, "It would be a good thing to have it shared."
For his part, Bacchus said that he did not want to dwell on the negatives because he believes that the public knows he met the criteria and persons are looking forward to the employment and other spin offs the opening of the establishment brings.
He had said that he would create 300 jobs at the facility, for which had held a recruitment drive in 2016 that saw over 500 applicants.
Training for staff of the casino had already materialised in Suriname and a Turkish Sous-Chef had trained local chefs for work in the kitchen.
Bacchus said the casino will operate in keeping with the COVID-19 guidelines and he added that he is not looking for any special treatment. "I am just relieved that we can open and the plans we had for workers and developing and adding to the economy can continue," he said.