Genting Group’s efforts to bring a casino to Miami may be uncertain, but the Malaysian company has found a way to plant its flag just a stone’s throw away from South Florida.
Genting has signed a deal to open Resorts World Bimini Bay, a luxury boutique casino at Bimini Bay Resort & Marina in North Bimini Island. The 10,000-square-foot multimillion-dollar casino is scheduled to open in December featuring full-scale table games, slots and sports betting, in a venue similar to casinos Genting operates in London. Sources familiar with the deal estimate the cost of the casino at more than $20 million.
The deal, which is scheduled to be announced Friday in Nassau, is a strategic partnership between Genting Malaysia Berhad and RAV Bahamas, the developer of Bimini Bay and the Rockewell Island Beach Estates. This will be the only casino on the island of Bimini and the closest offshore casino to South Florida, only 48 nautical miles off the coast and accessible by a half-hour plane flight or a 2 1/2-hour boat trip. Before the casino opens, the owners of Bimini Bay will partner in the launch of a high-speed ferry service that will make the trip from South Florida in 90 minutes.
The casino is designed as an attraction for visitors to Bimini, a sleepy Bahamian island known more for its fishing than Las Vegas-style nightlife.
“The casino has always been an amenity we wanted to provide as part of our multi-tiered, mixed-use development,” said Leslie Bethel, chief operating officer for RAV Bahamas. “Everything happens in time. We were smart. We know [a casino] is something you develop when you have the ability to generate the traffic. Now we have the critical mass that we can go forward.”
Genting declined Thursday through a spokesman to speak to The Herald about the Bimini project. It will not be the first time Genting has done business in the Bahamas. In 1986, the company built the Lucayan Beach Resort and Casino in Freeport in a joint venture with the Bahamian government.
“We are delighted to return to the Bahamas and be a part of this exciting resort community,” Dana Leibovitz, president of Resorts World Bimini Bay, said in a statement. “Our shared vision to offer gaming entertainment, luxury amenities and world-class service will continue to attract many new visitors to the Bahamas’ gateway destination just minutes away from South Florida and other major U.S. cities by air and sea.”
Bimini Bay Resort & Marina is a master-planned oceanfront community on 560 acres developed by Chairman Gerardo Capo of Miami and his family. The project began construction in 2003 and opened its first phase in late 2007, bringing a luxury resort to the typically rustic island that was once a haunt of author Ernest Hemingway.
Today, Bimini Bay has over 480 luxury homes and villas, the largest yacht marina complex in the Bahamas, a shopping village, four restaurants and a Beach Club. Just over half of the units at Bimini Bay are rented out as part of a condo-hotel program. Since it opened, the annual visitors to Bimini have grown by about 50 percent hitting 50,000, Bethel said.RAV Bahamas signed a deal in 2005 to open a casino and luxury hotel with Conrad Hotels, Hilton’s luxury brand. But the economy was one reason that didn’t happen, Bethel said.
Genting had always been high on the developer’s wish list. RAV Bahamas had known Genting from Grand Bahama Island and first approached the Malaysian company more than 12 years ago when Bimini Bay was in the conception stage. The fact that the two are partnering now after Genting has invested $500 million to purchase real estate in Miami, is just a matter of timing, Bethel said. Genting and other US-based gaming companies are pushing the Florida Legislature to allow casino gambling outside of tribal land and parimutuel facilities.
“Genting is looking to grow its business in the Americas,” Bethel said. “They’re one of few gaming entities that are focused on growth and expansion. There is no relation to what we’re doing in Bimini and Miami.”
But unlike the U.S., where Genting has stumbled in Florida and New York getting the necessary government approvals, the Bahamian government has already approved this project.
“This is an important venture not only for RAV Bahamas and Genting Malaysia but also for the island of Bimini,” Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie, prime minister of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, said in statement. “It provides further stability for the local economy in a destination that already enjoys a 79 percent repeat visitor return.”