The trouble with Casino Ownership

I worked for many years at the Alhambra Casino & later at the Royal Cabana Casino as Director of Marketing and I know that the job is not as glamorous as it seems. Record burnout, stress, assorted addictions including gaming, alcoholism and depression, are every day companions of casino employees. There is something inherently stressful about the environment and following the spectacular bankruptcy of the Royal Cabana Casino operator around the Millennium, I was happy to switch gears and do something different. Not everyone is that lucky, and many of the old-timers feel trapped in an ungrateful industry that delivers personal hardship as well as corporate indecency.

And talking about corporate indecency:  The Aura Casino is still closed, and resort ownership announced its plans to grant a future casino operator, yet unnamed, the long and narrow left-hand-side portion of the space previously occupied by Aura, while retaining the main area as a lobby bar with nightly entertainment, practically shrinking the gaming floor to a corridor, and thereby reducing the number of people required to run it.

Some of my friends who work for the gaming industry on Aruba report to me that the Central Bank of Aruba (CBA) has been asked by some of the braded resorts to check up on their in-house Venezuelan casino operators and approve their level of compliance, resulting in fines, as much as Awg 100,000 following rising concerns regarding irregular transactions and other procedural violations.

So what was the CBA so annoyed about: Failing to submit anti money laundering reports, and the overly creative practice of allowing certain members of the local Chinese community, playing at the casino, to exchange inflated sums of florins for casino chips which were later cashed out for US dollars.

It’s all OK on the surface, you come, you play, you cash out, but the emphasis was on inflated sums, and here’s the point: This totally explains where the Chinese merchants, the owners of our multiplying mini markets got their dollars to pay for beer, Venezuelan visitors purchased on credit.

Remembers that story, the ongoing saga of the cash crunch suffered by dollar-starved Venezuelan visitors, who creatively charge their cards for supermarket products at the official rate and turn around to sell it at a reduced price for greenbacks, then brought into Venezuela, and sold on the black market for a fortune?

At  62.20% inflation in Venezuela, this is a lucrative business, but I guess the black market doesn’t publish any press releases thus I did not find the exact rate of black market exchange but it can be TEN times over the official rate. Motivated to spend zero here visitors take their dollars and head home.

Then the Chinese merchants, the owners of our multiplying mini markets, head back into the casinos, and wait for the next wave of mercantile hustlers.

While the local Casino Association members have agreed to comply with the CBA exchange rate of Awg 1.80 to 1US dollar, casino chips are regularly offered to preferred, lucrative players at a rate of Awg 1.75 to 1US dollar, and then promotional chips are added to the pot at no charge, bringing the effective rate of exchange down to Awg 1.70 for 1US dollar.

Certain members of that preferred local Chinese community members were reportedly rewarded for bringing in players by being permitted to make inflated transactions of florins at discounted rates in exchange for chips. It is further rumored that some of these unusual transactions have gone unrecorded and with the casino avoiding a 4% government tax, imagine?!

These desperate marketing methods probably reflect desperate times for some casinos. With vendors remaining unpaid, employees often receiving their salaries late and many of the slot machines switched off, there is an air of concern on the faces of many employees, in casinos that are starting to look neglected, and I am referring to the Excelsior Casino, The Orchid Casino, I am still asking myself why didn’t any official government representative show up for the opening,  and Cool Casino, who have all been reporting difficulties.

This of course doesn’t apply across the board. The Alhambra Casino & the Stellaris Casino at the Marriott Aruba Resort are doing very well; they are popular, clean and well run, at the hand of their responsible corporations, which also applies to the Casino at the Ritz Carlton. Same goes for the Renaissance Casinos, who have always been preferred employers and fun establishments. The Hilton Casino has just made a substantial investment and continues to offer the latest gaming technology, fair gaming practices and an inviting environment to locals and visitors. The Trop Casino & Club, related to Tropicana Entertainment with a network of casinos in Nevada, New Jersey, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Indiana, is responsibly run. Did I forget anyone?

So, what does it tell me? It tells me that there are too many casinos on the island. It also implies that the free-standing casinos within walking distance to a great number of rooms do well. Casinos with a great number of rooms above the heads do well. Timeshare Resorts and All Inclusive Resorts are not perfectly matched with gaming. Their clients are more blissfully interested in the beach than anything else….

  • I was just told I forgot the Glitz, count them among well managed with lots of rooms above their heads…One of the better casinos at the Hyatt Regency slipped off the list, it’s a compliment when you are not among the notorious ….