Bahamian investors one of the bidders for the casino calling on the government to live up to its campaign promise

by: Lededra Marche, News Editor

A Bahamian group, which has put in its bid, is identifying itself and claiming it has both the financial backing and expertise to take over operations at the Treasure Bay Casino in Port Lucaya and is awaiting a response from government. 

“We’ve made an application to the government and we expect to be respected and we expect the process to work. If you’re not going to give it to us, let us know and be respectful about it,” Celebration Entertainment Gaming (CEG) Chairman, Sidney Stubbs, said yesterday at a briefing in Grand Bahama.

The group was formed a year and half ago and brings together over 75 years of casino operations management and executive leadership in the casino industry, according to Stubbs.

The Bahamian business partners include Maxwell Sweeting, who serves as chief financial officer; Tommy Thompson, who is the longest serving deputy secretary of the Gaming Board of the Bahamas and Rufus Johnson.

Government has been seeking out an operator for the casino property since its operators, Treasure Bay Inc., revealed that it would not remain when its contract expired back in January.

Treasure Bay Inc. is based in Biloxi, Mississippi and took over the property from Isle of Capri in March 2010.

Government recently revealed that the list of prospective buyers was narrowed to three as it is working on a time frame to choose an operator by the time the adjacent Reef property opens.

Concerned over the fact that they have yet to hear anything since their last meeting in April, Stubbs and several members of the group held a briefing to put a face to their name and disclose plans they have for the revitalization of the casino and ultimately the island.

Stubbs said that after coming together, the group sought out foreign joint venture partners with additional casino expertise and money, namely Omar Amanat, a successful businessman and entrepreneur in the United States, who has been profiled in Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, and his partners Wallace Cheves, who has wide expertise in the gaming industry and Sean Sullivan, one of the leading investment bankers.

Stubbs also revealed that the Bahamian group devised the business plan.

“We also retained a very aggressive young group of CPAs and financial analysts called the AGM Partners. These are all very brilliant Bahamians, because we want to put together a first class team to represent the interest of Bahamians and promote the concept of Bahamians becoming major players in the Bahamian economy, particularly in gaming,” Stubbs said.

The group submitted its proposal in November 2012, according to Stubbs, who pointed out that they had made the initial application, under the Silver Palm Group.

“Once we did our joint venture with Mr. Armana, Sean Sullivan and Wallace Cheves we jointly decided, seeing that they started the process to buy the Celebration, that we would change the name of the group to CEG,” he said.

Stubbs said the group then met with government officials in New Providence Armana and his team came to Grand Bahama, was given a tour of the casino and had further meetings with executives of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA).

According to Stubbs, the U.S. investors are also in negotiations with cruiseship owners and are expected to make an announcement soon.

“They brought their hotel people, who run their 39 hotels, worldwide, and they went through and spoke to the people at the hotel,” he said. “They’re putting together a document now for the Grand Bahama Port Authority.

“We must say as a Bahamian group that we have gotten tremendous help and assistance in terms of advice from the Minister for Grand Bahama Dr. Darville.”

Stubbs noted that the Progressive Liberal Party, during their  election campaign, talked about Bahamianization and putting Bahamians first and now the group is calling on them to demonstrate that vision.

“We’re calling upon visionary members of the government like the Honorable Fred Mitchell, Allyson Maynard Gibson, the attorney general, Kaalis Rolle, Michael Halkitis, and the prime minister one of the greatest Bahamians,” he said.

“These people, they believe in that visionary approach to economy building and building a nation. All we’re saying is, we’re not asking you for anything. Put Bahamians first. Give this group, and other Bahamian groups a chance, and let us bring our creative juices to flow and to the forefront, along with our credible international partners with deep pockets, plenty money and let’s make things happen.”

The group believes it has the right formula.

“We can rebuild Grand Bahama and we can rebuild the rest of the country, but the government needs to wake up and say ‘sure we’re with you, we support you. Bring us the credible people, bring the credible groups,’” he said.

Stubbs addressed the mentality Bahamians have among themselves when it comes to investment.

“There is a pervasive thing in the country where a lot of Bahamians downgrade and denigrate each other, we need to stop that,” he said.

“We need to get this ignorant, silly mentality out of the Bahamian psyche and we need to start thinking like 21century citizens. “

he said the group simply wants to be given a fair chance.

“We’re saying listen, don’t denigrate us, don’t call us crooks, don’t call us robbers, don’t call us thieves, second-class citizens we’re Bahamians,” he said, adding that the group is not desperate and has other projects in the pipeline.

Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe revealed yesterday that the CEG group is not the only Bahamian group who has put in its bid and explained that the negotiation process for casino operator is carried out by Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas. 

“The Hotel Corporation technically owns the casino and that group and the consultant from the Prime minister’s office, Mr. Baltron Bethel who also consults also with the Ministry of Tourism, has been responsible for discussions,” he said.

“We have been made aware of all the groups. We have spoken to one or two, but we do not sit down and engage in the negotiations. The minister does not get in that at all, because the minister deals with it upon the recommendation of the group and the consultant.”

The recommendations, he explained, subsequently go to the Gaming Board, which does not involve itself and maintains a hands-off approach. 

Any documentation that is sent to him as a point of initial contact, he forwards it on to Bethel.

“At the appropriate time all those who have applied will be told, but no one has been told as yet,” he stressed.

It has become a long process to find the right operator.

“We are sitting, we’re talking, we’re looking at the qualities, the ability, the strengths, the experience — that’s being weighed and upon conclusion then all will be informed as to who would have been given the opportunity,” he said.

“Because we don’t want to find ourselves in a situation again where we’re dealing with companies like we had with Isle of Capri and with the present casino, that cannot give us what we need.”

Government is looking for a brand and sustainability that is going to cause for the expansion and growth of Grand Bahama, he added.

 “What we’re looking for is a company that has reach, that has experience, that has the wherewithal to cause for marking, to cause for development,” he said.

“What we’ve seen in the past is where The Bahamas government has put millions and millions of dollars into a wasted effort. We can’t waste the people’s money anymore. 

We’re looking for someone who, with serious casino operators that have that international reputation that understands what it is to run a casino that has reach, that can reach out and get a client base, that has a client base to begin with, that’s what we’re looking for.”

The process, he noted, is open to everyone.

“We’re inviting everyone to submit, but at the end of the day we have to make a decision that is going to cause for growth and development in Grand Bahama for the sustainability of Grand Bahama,” he said.

“We are very pleased that Bahamian companies that are now stepping up and offering themselves, but they go through the same due diligence, not by the minister but by the hotel corporation and the Gaming Board subsequently but are led by the advisor to the prime minister’s office and to the minister, Sir Baltron Bethel.

“When the final decision is made, the minister and prime minister are advised on the recommendation being made. That’s when we get into it.”

He said progress is being made, however, it is taking longer than they want it to.

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