Atlantis Casino Business Falling 15% Yearly

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ATLANTIS'S casino business is falling "15 per cent year-over-year every year" due to increased competition from many US states, its managing director underscoring the need for the Bahamas to reform its casino gaming laws, while group business for many Bahamian hotels is unlikely to return until "late 2011".

Sounding a note of caution amid much optimism coming from the company's Paradise Island properties, George Markantonis, Kerzner International (Bahamas) managing director, said part of the reason the company was investing $20-$25 million in upgrading Atlantis's casino was to "make it state-of-the art and able to compete with any other casino offering".

The rapid expansion of casino and gaming facilities in many US states, especially in Florida and the north-east states, key markets for Atlantis and the Bahamas, meant it was vital the resort - and the country - "make it easier, more attractive to bring people here".

Thinking of the high-roller, high-end clientele the Atlantis casino is aimed at, Mr Markantonis pointed to the rapid expansion of casino gaming in Florida, in particular, via the Seminole and Hard Rock casino, plus the installation of slot machines at facilities such as race tracks.

"This has a serious impact on us," the Atlantis chief said, questioning why a Florida resident wanting to gamble in a casino would choose the added time and inconvenience of driving to the airport, going through various security and immigration checkpoints and then flying to the Bahamas, when they could virtually pursue their favourite past-time on their doorstep.

"We have to stay competitive," Mr Markantonis said. "Our gaming business is down 15 per cent year-over-year every year, because there's so much competition around us. Every US state is opening up casinos."

He added that Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, the minister of tourism and aviation, had told him last week that the reforms to the Bahamas' casino gaming laws suggested by Atlantis, the Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA) and others were "being looked at very carefully. It's not an easy process".

Among the reforms proposed were allowing Bahamian casino staff to multi-task and deal several games at once, rather than being restricted to the one game as they are currently.

Meanwhile, while Atlantis had seen a 35 per cent increase in its leisure travel bookings for 2010 year-to-date, the same did not apply to its groups/conventions/meetings business.

"We have not seen the same upturn in groups and conventions. That business remains flat," Mr Markantonis said, pointing out that Atlantis was no different from Atlantic City or Las Vegas in this respect.

Kerzner International was "doing everything possible to stimulate that demand", but Mr Markantonis conceded that earlier estimates of an early 2011 recovery in the groups and conventions market were unlikely to hold true.

"I think we were probably to optimistic as an industry," he added, emphasising that he could not speak for the sector as a whole. "If it's going to come back, it will probably be in the latter half of 2011. We have a lot of tentative groups for next year, people who have not signed contracts. I'd feel a lot better if we could get those thousands of tentative room nights signed."

Mr Markantonis said many meeting planners, who directed where conventions business went, were biding their time to exploit the number of deals currently in the market.

Atlantis was still continuing to extract efficiencies and cost savings from its business, Mr Markantonis saying the installation of additional meters had uncovered further "weak spots" in its energy efficiency coverage. With the resort's electricity bill having peaked at $60 million two years ago, he added: "The fine tuning never stops."

Source: The Tribune