CubaNews / September 2002
By Larry Luxner
An expert on the Caribbean gambling industry says Cuba's lack of casinos will eventually hurt the island as it vies with other destinations for tourist dollars.
Bruce Smith, president of New York-based WestVille Enterprises, says that for now, however, it's probably not a major drawback.
"For people going to Cuba now, it's an adventure holiday," he said. "People don't go to Cuba expecting to have the same environment they have in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas or Aruba. You've got to be a little adventurous. Even the Canadians and Europeans aren't expecting the same experience they'd get elsewhere in the Caribbean."
Smith, whose company last month organized the Fourth Annual Caribbean Gaming and Hospitality Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said the Castro government ought to seriously consider the legalization of casino gambling if it wants to continue attracting tourists over the long run.
"We all know what it was like pre-Fidel. The mob ran things," he told CubaNews. "My advice is: put it aside and start with a clean piece of paper. The key thing is a regulatory environment."
According to Smith, several French and British casino operators have "expressed interest" in setting up gambling operations in Cuba. He declined to name names, though he did say that the industry has come a long way from the days of Meyer Lansky and his corrupt cronies in the Batista government.
"The vast majority of today's modern gaming operators are publicly owned companies. They want a very clearly spelled-out regulatory environment that will pass muster by other jurisdictions. Nobody who has operations in Nevada is going to think for a moment of opening up in a market where the regulations are iffy. They'll want to know where they money is coming from."
If and when casino gambling is allowed in Cuba, said Smith, slot machines, blackjack tables and the like will most likely be restricted to four- and five-star hotels -- as Puerto Rico does -- and only those with foreign passports and hard currency will be allowed inside.
Smith adds: "If the Cubans create a transparent regulatory environment, where the rules and regulations are spelled out and enforced equally so that suppliers would want to do business in Cuba, then yes, they'd probably wind up with casinos at resorts catering to European tourists, bringing them in on 8-day package tours. There's a fair number of those in the Dominican Republic, and they're very profitable."
But Smith says large-scale casinos aren't likely in Cuba until the U.S. embargo is lifted. "When relations with the United States open, that's when they can talk about major casino and resort hotel development."
Details: Bruce R. Smith, WestVille Enterprises, 26 Woodland Ave., Bronxville, NY 10708. Tel: (914) 337-1246. Fax: (914) 337-1147. E-mail: BSmith7823@aol.com.