Sept. 26, 2001 — Even with economic uncertainty looming over the nation, the owners of the Divi Carina Bay Casino are moving ahead with expansion plans.
Bernie Burkholder, president and CEO of Treasure Bay V.I. Corp., the company that operates St. Croix's only casino, said Tuesday that the expansion will add 5,400 square feet to the facility's current 10,000 square feet. This will allow for 91 more slot machines and seven gaming tables, he said. The casino now has about 300 slot machines, 10 blackjack tables, two roulette tables and one craps table.
He said the expansion also will add 25 to 30 new casino jobs to the existing 150.
Burkholder said the project will generate about 75 jobs during construction, which is set to begin in mid-October. The opening is set for mid-February.
Burkholder's announcement was tempered by the recent terrorist attacks that have left thousands dead and the already shaky U.S. economy even shakier. Still, Burkholder said he is confident in the economy both in the territory and on the mainland.
While "the economy in the U.S. and the world is not at its peak," he said, "I believe in our economy long term, and I believe in the spirit of the American people."
Because most of the casino’s business is still being generated by local players and because the attacks occurred in the territory's off-season, Burkholder said that the direct impact isn't as great as it has been in some other casino gaming areas. He said business is off about 15 percent from last year.
But at Treasure Bay's other Caribbean casino, in Aruba, business is down about 60 percent, he said.
Because of the expected impact of fewer travelers from the U.S. mainland and Canada, Burkholder said, he has decided to forgo a "multimillion-dollar" advertising program in those markets. "I don't believe that plan is viable now," he said.
Instead, the effort to attract gamblers will shift to St. Thomas, St. John, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands.
The V.I. Casino Control Commission chair, Eileen Petersen, said she approved of the expansion. "I'm pleased Divi has decided to proceed with its expansion plans," she said. But meantime, she added, the events of the last two weeks have raised questions over two pending casino applications.
Petersen said she is in constant touch with the two prospective casino investors and will meet soon with one to gauge his willingness to proceed.
"This has really been a setback of some sort," she said.
Burkholder said the Divi casino expansion also will include a larger cashier cage, additional restrooms, a second beverage station and 200 parking places. There will be a new dining room, entrance and restrooms for employees and additional offices.
Burkholder declined to put a price on the expansion, saying that negotiations with subcontractors are still in progress.
"I think it's important to have some positive news," he said. "It's not a huge step, but it's a sign, a step to reinvest back into St. Croix."


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