NASSAU -- If Bahamian government leaders have their way, the opening of Resorts World Bimini Bay will be only the beginning of Genting Group’s footprint in the country.
Bahamas Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said Friday he has been in discussions with Genting about opening a casino on Grand Bahama Island. That would mark a homecoming of sorts: Genting built and operated the Lucayan Beach Resort and Casino in Freeport during the 1980s, which it later sold.
Wilchcombe’s comments came after a press conference Friday to announce the plans for Resorts World Bimini Bay, a joint venture between Genting Malaysia Berhad and RAV Bahamas. The $24 million luxury boutique casino at the Bimini Bay Resort & Marina in North Bimini Island is scheduled to open in December, creating at least 300 jobs for the island and helping to boost tourism.
But Wilchcombe and Prime Minister Perry Christie both acknowledged they are trying to sell Genting on taking a larger role in their efforts to rejuvenate the island’s tourism industry. Christie said he had “tried to persuade” Genting to take a look at the Bahamas back when it was facing difficulties earlier this year in the Florida Legislature with its efforts to seek approval for resort gambling in Florida.
“We’ve asked Genting to look around,” Wilchcombe said. “When you have a brand like Genting that has a database of clients, they can use that database to benefit the Bahamas.”
Dana Leibovitz, president of Resorts World Bimini Bay, acknowledged that Genting is “always looking for opportunities.” But the current focus is on completing Resorts World Bimini Bay, which will include full-scale table games, slots and sports betting.
“Right now this is it,” Leibovitz said. “It’s too early to say about anything else. We’re listening. We have a great relationship with the Minister of Tourism.”
Resorts World Bimini helps Christie’s team post another checkmark in its campaign to reduce unemployment. When Christie took office in May, joblessness stood at almost 15 percent and youth unemployment at 34 percent.
Beyond the 300 direct jobs that Resorts World Bimini will create, Bahamian officials estimate the project will have an indirect impact on as many as 1,000 people. The government will help provide training for Bimini’s residential population, which is less than 3,000 people.
“The emphasis will be placed on ensuring that the people of Bimini do not look through the window but actually get into this development by being active participants,” Christie said. “We will work with the developer to ensure that our residents have sustained employment as a result of the economic impacts this development will bring about.”
Past casino efforts haven’t always worked as planned, though. A gambling facility in Exuma failed, and despite its popularity, the massive Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, which includes a large casino, has struggled during the economic downturn. But, said Christie, "Genting brings a perspective that we cannot ignore."
Friday’s announcement came after more than a decade of effort by RAV Bahamas Chairman Gerardo Capo of Miami to convince Genting Chairman K.T. Lim to build a casino at Bimini Bay. Capo became friends over the years with Lim and his father Lim Goh Tong, the company’s former chairman, visiting their resorts in Malaysia and Singapore, as well as their former cruise line in Asia.