Bad Karma, for Aura Casino

The problem for employees of Aura Casino started when Barceló Hotels & Resorts, operating the Occidental Grand Aruba All Inclusive, recently won a court-case against Aura Casino ownership for outstanding rent.  Are you following? A few months ago I reported that  Barceló Hotels & Resorts with over 100 hotels in 16 countries, took the Occidental Grand Aruba All Inclusive, over. They changed general managers, but otherwise it was the quietest take over in the history of takeovers, even the name remained the same, with the exception of the casino, which was leased to outsiders. While the license is held by Barceló, the casino was operated by a group of Venezuelan business people, who made a substantial investment, baptizing the joint in 2011, as Aura Casino. While they changed the physical layout, the variety of games, the slot machine mix, staff uniforms and signage back then, they retained the company’s name, TMRG, The Millennium Resource Group, which originally belonged to Canadian businessman Socrates Goulakos, who operated the Radisson Casino years ago. Are you still with me?  So, the judge ruled that the Venezuelan ownership had until January 6th, 2016, to make good on money owned to Barceló or vacate the property. Then further financial issues followed when TMRG also failed to pay the employee Christmas bonuses and their salaries for the first two weeks of December. Faced by challenges and an acute shortage of cash, TMRG just closed the doors, suspending operations, and it took the joint efforts of the union and the Government Mediator to rectify some of that, at least employees were paid their bonuses. Their salaries remained unpaid. With the casino closed during Aruba’s peak season, employees, in principle, lost the opportunity to earn fat tips, and the fear for their savings, outstanding salary and severance pay became totally justified. Eventually further outrage ensued when it was reported that ownership took all gaming equipment out and transferred it to the neighboring Excelsior Casino at the Holiday Inn, that is closely affiliated, and even shares the same casino manager.  But that story of vanished gaming equipment appears to have been exaggerated, as slot machines and gaming tables are now visible when viewing the casino from the Barceló lobby. One has to assume that despite the holes in the ceiling and the lack of seating that the cameras, stools and chairs are still stacked somewhere inside. Clearly the Excelsior and Aura casinos share at least some of the same ownership; but the degree to which it is the same shareholders or the same shareholding per shareholder, is not transparent. As I told you, the operators have continued to trade under the original name TMRG without bothering to change directorship. Poor Socrates Goulakos, he still has his name on the door so to speak, while he abandoned Aruba many years ago. Industry observers that I have spoken to are speculating that Excelsior Casino is also under-performing and may soon need an infusion of capital or new ownership. The union took the initiative to approach the Casino Association to check whether other casinos would temporarily absorb the displaced employees, an effort which was met with moderate success as the casinos are already fully staffed for the high season. It is also rumored that Barceló intends to significantly reduce the casino space. This could result in down-sizing of casino personnel. Perhaps the fate of Aura Casino was inevitable; when they failed, since the beginning, to find a bank that would allow them to open accounts. Did you hear me? Aura Casino ownership has been operating all these years without bank accounts, having probably/possibly failed the scrutiny of the Central Bank. Which also explains why when the Excelsior Casino was visited by thieves, their take was substantial, as it never made it to the bank. What bank? They never had a bank account. Last but not least: When I figure out how my friend, veteran casino operator Mike Posner is related to all that I will let you know, but I heard his name mentioned in connection to the Aura Casino, the Excelsior Casino, the Orchid Casino and Cool Casino, which are all somehow related, and not because of their success. Stay tuned.