Despite objections from the Division of Gaming Enforcement and the governor of the Virgin Islands, the V.I. Casino Control Commission on Monday approved a temporary license for VIGL Operations, LLC, to operate a slot machine casino in downtown Christiansted.
In February, the VICCC approved a casino license for VIGL Operations, LLC, and Casino Holdings LLC, to operate a Class Four casino with 50 to 70 slot machines.
The license required the casino to be attached to a hotel with at least 75 rooms and a banquet room for 400 people. The law also requires a 60 percent reinvestment of the net cash flow in 10 years.
The casino license stipulated plans for the hotel be submitted by April 29 and rendered drawings were displayed by Lance Griffith of VIGL at Monday’s meeting. The hotel, originally the Hotel Caravelle but renamed renamed Fonix, the Danish word for Phoenix, has already cost the developers around $5 million to renovate 35 rooms and the lobby and build the casino.
The cost to complete the Fonix will be $4 to $6 million dollars and another $2 million for equipment and machines, Griffith said.
Since the initial casino license was granted, Griffith said, employees have been trained and licensed and the electronic games have been tested. He explained that the new slot machine management system will allow more transparency and quick reporting to the VICCC.
Joseph Ponteen, chief deputy attorney general, testifying on behalf of Gaming Enforcement, said VIGL has not “satisfied certain requirements” of the Virgin Islands Casino and Resort Control Act and Regulation, even though the VICCC resolution stated the corporation “complies in all respects” with the requirements and regulations.
Ponteen read a letter he had written to the commission complaining that his office was not notified or consulted about Monday’s special meeting. Equipment testing by Gaming Laboratories International would not be completed until the end of the week, Ponteen said, and GLI must report its findings before the Department of Gaming Enforcement submits its report.
Further, Ponteen said, in early March DGE found problems with the surveillance/security system and has not inspected the site since then to see if cameras in the count room and emergency exits function properly.
Ponteen also claimed the DGE has not received blueprints or a description of the casino’s system of internal procedures and administrative and accounting controls to determine if they conform to the law and provide adequate and effective control for operating a casino.
“As the DGE has not yet received the required submissions, it cannot advise the CCC as mandated by the regulations. Therefore, for the reasons stated herein, the DGE objects to the issuance of a certificate of operation to VIGL at this time,” Ponteen read.
Griffith replied that some of the required documents have been supplied to the DGE.
Violet Anne Golden, chair and chief executive officer of the Casino Control Commission, and commissioners Roderick Moorehead and Henry Richardson disagreed with Ponteen and said they were satisfied that VIGL has complied “in all respects” to Chapter 21, Title 32 of the V.I. Code.
“The Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission has examined the management controls and security systems and plans in place for the operation of the requested casino and is satisfied that the controls and systems are appropriate for a gaming facility that is operating only slot games,” the resolution read.
During the February hearing, representatives from the Divi Carina Bay Casino complained that they were required to build all the hotel rooms for their casino before they were granted a license. On several occasions in the last few months, Gov. Kenneth Mapp has commented that VIGL should abide by the same rules.
“Let the owner of the hotel complete the necessary investments in order to open the doors of the casino. To do otherwise is to have the gambling patrons build the rooms and spaces," Mapp said in March.
The V.I. Legislature disagreed with Mapp and overrode his veto at the end of March to deny the VICCC the power to waive requirements for VIGL’s certificate.
The operations certificate mandates that the casino comply with applicable and future rules and regulations, remits appropriate taxes, and pay for its casino license – about $80,000 for the first year. The certificate expires Oct. 18 unless extended.
“The certificate of operations gives us the ability to open a casino in the Hotel Caravelle,” Griffith said.