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Jan 29, 2003

Ground broken on hotel casino in Corozal

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Not all of the nation’s explosive growth in tourism is taking place at resort areas like San Pedro, Cayo or Placencia. Today I was on hand as the earth was turned on a big new project just a poker chip’s toss from the northern border.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

This afternoon, ceremonies to mark the official ground breaking of the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino were held at mile ninety-one and a half on the Northern Highway.

According to the investors, in less than a year, this scene will become this…a three hundred room hotel with business and entertainment facilities, including a casino. On hand today was George Hardie, President and C.E.O. of El Dorado Investments Limited. Hardie says his team is confident of their plans in Belize.

George Hardie, C.E.O., President, El Dorado

“Well, there’s always risk, you’re never sure, but we’ve believe that there is a huge market in Mexico and foreign trade that hasn’t been exploited yet, so we think with a quality hotel here and a customer service oriented casino, that we will be able to bring a lot of people down here.”

And by all accounts if everything goes according to plan, a lot of Belizeans will have new employment opportunities.

George Hardie

“We have been in the poker club business, and of course at one time we had the world’s largest poker club two thousand employees. This casino will have approximately four hundred and thirty employees, and when the hotel is built, there’ll be about six hundred plus employees. Initially, at least on the managerial level, we’ll have to bring in some outside people. But we hope to train, we’re going to have free training for the employees, and we hope that train people here that are Belizeans to run the casino.”

Located just across from the new entrance of the Corozal Free Zone, it is hoped that the as many as four thousand Mexicans crossing the border everyday to shop in the zone will take a detour to the hotel and casino. Minister of Budget Management Ralph Fonseca says the new project will boost Belize’s image as a tourism destination.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Budget Management

“Obviously, when we passed the gaming legislation, to whole idea was to bring it into the mix with the tourism products. Just about every island in the Caribbean has done that, most countries in Latin America, and many, many states in the United States of America have it as a part of their tourism product. If we want to be internationally competition, we have to get with it.”

“Once this project gets onboard, people that have got investments in the Commercial Free Zone will feel a little bit more at ease. As you know, it has not been easy maintaining the market place with the free zone, with this mix of new product now, I think that the whole investment climate will be a much better one.”

Hardie and El Dorado hope that by September of this year, the first phase of this project, which will include over a hundred hotel rooms and the casino will be completed, at the cost of some eighteen million U.S. dollars. But will Belizeans be allowed to spend their hard earned cash inside?

Cresencio Sosa, Chairman, Gaming Commission

“The law allows Belizeans to access casinos. In Belize City we have a membership programme arrangement with the casino there that does require our visitors to that establishment to have three hundred dollars on their person when they enter.”

Janelle Chanona

“And that will be the same thing here, you’ll set up a membership programme here too as well?”

Cresencio Sosa

“This casino really will operate under the additional laws of the Export Processing Zones, which provide for production of goods and services for export. Therefore, in that context, the services here will be for export, meaning that the services will be for visitors.”

Janelle Chanona

“So Belizeans won’t be able to come here and use the casino?”

Cresencio Sosa

“The status, the designation of it as an Export Processing Zone determines that.”

Janelle Chanona

“I just want you to say it in your words, Belizeans won’t be able to come here.”

Cresencio Sosa

“It is for visitors, foreigners.”

But even before it gets off the ground, this project bears striking resemblance to another brave initiative: The Galleria Maya, which was supposed to have been completed two years ago.

Ralph Fonseca

“The Galleria Maya project is still on, it’s just going a lot slower than we originally expected. As you know, September eleventh affected tourism worldwide and it affected their finances, but they’ve gone ahead, and they’re building the road now along with the Commercial Free Zone that leads into the Galleria Maya and they’re re-planning their foundation works and they’re working.”

Janelle Chanona

“So that will come through as this project will?”

Ralph Fonseca

“Oh yes, it’ll work all together, even in Las Vegas where these people are from that are involved in this investment, they will tell you that two casinos are better than one and five is better than four.”

But this afternoon, the odds were in favour of three lucky Belizeans who bent that law a little bit, participating in Las Vegas Hotel and Casino’s first gambling game…pulling names out of a bag for cash.

Despite their E.P.Z. status, El Dorado Investment Limited will pay a four percent business tax to the government.

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