South Florida lawyer Bruce Liebman, who is also owner of ChargeCube, recently stated Jamaica had a nice opening to become a casino destination, but Jamaican Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said the island nation does not want to be seen as a casino destination spot.
Bruce Liebman made the statement at a recent seminar held in Jamaica. Liebman delivered an address titled “Hospitality Industry and Casino Operator’s Guide to Managing U.S. Liability Issues from the Caribbean”.
Barlett’s reply to Liebman’s announcement reveals a complicated reality for Jamaica. If the Tourism Minister is to be believed, Jamaica would like to see the kind of economic growth a casino economy can bring. It simply does not want to gain the reputation that casino destinations sometimes have.
Edmund Bartlett said, “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.”
Jamaican Tourist Minister on Casinos
The statement was portrayed in the global gaming media as a sign that Jamaica is rejecting Bruce Liebman’s advice. A careful reading suggests that the Tourism Ministry wants to build a casino industry as “a driver for exponential growth”.
In making the statement, the tourism minister is projecting a certain bravado. He is saying that the casino industry needs Jamaica more than Jamaica needs the casino industry. Once that is established, Jamaica will be happy to take the revenues which the casino industry will bring.
Like many public officials, Edmund Bartlett wants to have it both ways. But the question is whether Bruce Liebman’s statement is accurate.
Bruce Liebman on Jamaican Casinos
Bruce Liebman, a poker enthusiast as well as the vice president of the prestigious Fort Lauderdale based law firm, Kaufman Dolowich Voluck, was talking about the passage of Amendment 3 in the 2018 midterm election. Amendment 3 limited the further expansion of casino gambling in Florida.
Amendment 3 states, to expand gambling in Florida, gaming interests would have to go to a statewide vote. The legislature cannot expand gambling through a decision of its own. The Seminole Nation and the Walt Disney Company combined to spend $10 million to see Amendment 3 succeed in Florida.
The Kaufman Dolowich Voluck lawyer suggests that growth that South Florida would have had likely will happen elsewhere in the broad region. If Florida will not build world class casinos, then Jamaica could do the same.
Liebman called for casion resorts which embrace sports betting. The Florida lawyer said in his seminar, “If you guys can get there in the next few years and put in casinos in an integrated format with entertainment, with condominiums, with shopping and golf courses and get it on the ocean with your beautiful sand and beautiful beaches, you will be ahead of the state of Florida.”
“It’s pretty simple. You want to put bodies in rooms that were going to remain unsold, so you bring them to your casino.”
Why Jamaican Casinos Sound Good
The idea is sound. Other nearby islands could do the same, but might not. The Bahamas are closer to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but they already have a casino industry. Puerto Rico might legalize casinos, but the US overseas territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria in October 2017. Casino goers might not flock to such devastation.
Jamaica is a nice alternative. Tourists already enjoy visiting Jamaica for its nice beaches, its visitor-friendly British laws, and its overall ambiance. Add in a few integrated casino resorts and the island would profit greatly.
Casinos would create thousands of temporary jobs in construction and permanent jobs in the leisure industry. It would generate tremendous cash for the government treasury. Not only would Americans from South Florida visit Jamaican casinos, but the millions of tourists from the wider United States and the United Kingdom would flock to the resorts — if they had the chance.
Bruce Liebman on Casino Gambling’s Downside
Bruce Liebman hedged his bets. He said casino gambling would only boost the Jamaican economy 2%. He added that Florida had been hesitate to take the step, adding, “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.”
In short, the casino industry has a perceived downside. Florida, essentially a conservative southern state full of retirees from the American north and immigrants from the Caribbean, decided to avoid the attendant social problems casinos might bring.
Why Amendment 3 is Short-Sighted
One can argue whether casinos bring crime and corruption, but Bruce Liebman is right that such perceptions have caused Florida to avoid gambling expansion. Florida voters acceded to the vision put forward by the Seminole Tribe and Disney.
The question is whether the Seminole Tribe was right to support such an amendment. The law of unintended consequences being what it is, a person or group often comes to rue the day such profound changes happened. The old say, “Beware of what you wish for; you might get it,” comes to mind.
Whether through innovation or changing norms in American casino tastes, the Seminoles will want to add some new type of gambling to their six Florida-based casinos’ list of games. When it does, the tribe will not be able to hammer out a deal with lawmakers. Instead, it will need to appeal to Florida voters in a statewide referendum. And when it does, Disney will be opposed, because it will still want to keep Florida tourism family-friendly.
Jamaican Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett might be wise in wanting it both ways.