The V.I. Casino Control Commission adopted amendments Tuesday increasing fees for the Divi Carina Bay casino and its employees and denied a time extension for the parent company to make improvements at the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack.
During the October meeting, VICCC Chairwoman Violet Ann Golden presented almost two dozen amendments to Casino Control Commission regulations that were approved unanimously Tuesday by Golden, Henry Richardson and Roderick Moorehead, despite objections from Treasure Bay VI, the casino’s management company and others.
“We are confident it’s going to be reasonable” and “no extra burden on men and women working at the casino,” Golden said before the vote.
She told Treasure Bay attorney Charles Lockwood to make objections “in writing.”
In December, the Senate reduced the number of Casino Control commissioners from five to three. The V.I. Legislature and the governor must also approve the VICCC amendments, which include:
– The Casino Commission will meet at the discretion of the chairperson rather than once a month and a quorum will consist of two commissioners;
– The term of a casino license will be one year, rather than two, and renewable every two years for two terms and then every four years;
– Casino key employees will pay $600 for a license the first year and then $400 every two years. In the past, the VICCC issued two-year licenses for $600. Employees also will be subject to $120 per hour investigative fees;
– Casino employee licenses will be issued for two, not three years, and renewed for four two-year periods. The first license will be $450 and then $400 every two years;
– Casino security employees will have a $50 year annual registration fee rather than a one-time fee;
– The age requirement for casino key employees was lowered from 21to18 years of age;
– The annual license fee for slot machines will be $260, up from $250, for each machine;
– License fees will increase for alcoholic beverages from $75 to $150 a day and non-gaming related service licenses of $1,800 will terminate after two years instead of three;
– and fees will be charged for a variety of services including photocopies, office use, lost licenses, name and address changes, returned checks, work-permit renewal and/or replacement and investigative and administrative fees up to $120 per hour.
In October, Golden said the fees were not being increased but will applied as stated by law and not sporadically as in the past.
“For 15 years, the Casino Commission discounted the fees by half. We didn’t collect what the law said we could,” Golden said then.
Also in October, Susan Varnes, Treasure Bay VI president, said the fees were more than 170 times higher than stateside gaming operations and were “anti-business” even as the territory is trying to attract new business.
Letters from two gaming consultants pointed out that license renewal fees usually are lower progressively since the investigative work has been done during the first license period. They added that most state laws require fees only to cover the licensing process.
Since the October presentation of the amendments, the VICCC changed one set of fees and lowered rates for four-year renewal licenses. The largest casinos, with 300 to 1,499 rooms, now would pay $420,000 instead of $560,000 for the fourth year license. A casino the size of Divi Carina Bay, with 200 to 299 rooms will pay $180,000 instead of $240,000. A four-year renewal license for a racino will now be $75,000 rather than $100,000.
In other action, to the satisfaction of about 20 horsemen, the commission ruled TRAXCO, the racetrack operator, is out of time for making improvements at the facility. The Flamboyant Horsemen Association Inc. has lodged complaints for months about low purses and the physical condition of the racetrack.
During 2015, TRAXCO, a subsidiary of Treasure Bay, sought to delay making cash infusions to the facility. According to Anton Kuipers, general manager of Treasure Bay, the corporation has limited funding due to the local economy and needs a long-term contract to make the investment.
Kuipers described TRAXCO’s contractual improvements as consisting of installing 80 gaming machines and building an office for the commission. There are no requirements for work on the racetrack at this time, he said.
Golden then directed TRAXCO to supply, in 30 days, architectural designs for the improvements to the racetrack and said the VICCC will meet with them and outline the construction process and timeline.
Golden reproached TRAXCO about the condition of the racetrack and said it should be of the quality to attract racing enthusiasts.
“The Virgin Islands deserves better,” she said. “Improve it and people will come.”