Sarkis Izmirlian and his group of financial investors pumped in $3.5 billion to develop the Baha Mar Casino Resort in the Bahamas and initially expected the casino resort to be opened in December 2014. The mega casino resort was expected to play a vital role in generating thousands of employment opportunities both directly and indirectly, giving the local economy a much needed boost and generating a significant amount of tax revenue for the government.
The Baha Mar casino resort has faced numerous challenges along the way and is yet to be opened. An economic impact report spanning the last 18 months was recently released, highlighting the fact that the government has lost as much as $315 million in revenue due to the delay in opening the casino. The study estimated that the resort had lost around 800,000 stop over visitors during this time, where each visitor would have spent an average of $576 each day.
The government lost out on $16 million in business licensing fees; $30 million in casino tax winnings; $25 million in stamp conveyance fees with a rate of 10 percent; $13 million in departure tax; $33 million in National Insurance Board contributions; $81 million in occupancy and value taxes and $114 million in import duty. The study also stated that the government lost $48 million in government utility payments; $451 million in salaries and wages for direct and indirect employees and $1.9 million in gross domestic product (GDP).
One of the main reasons for the delay was due to the fact that developer Sarkis Izmirlian filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2015 in Delaware court. The Bahamas opposed this move stating that it violated the country’s sovereignty and requested the Supreme Court to place the property into liquidation. The government has continued its search to find a financial backer to complete the project but so far nothing has been confirmed.
Former Attorney General and Free National Movement Senator Carl Bethel has been highly critical of Prime Minister Perry Christie and his administration regarding the way in which they handled the Baha Mar casino resort. Bethel has accused Christie of favoring the Chinese as the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of China is the secured creditor for the resort and the China Construction America (CCA) Bahamas is the general contractor for the resort. Bethel stated that should his party win the next election, he would ask the commission to launch a full scale investigation into the matter.
In a statement, Bethel said “I recommended that the FNM should, once we return to office, have a full Commission of Inquiry into this debacle. I think that as you know by now, the estimated economic (losses) for this country are a disgrace, but putting aside project figures and numbers, the cost in human capital and lost expectations is equal distressing for this country.”
Prime Minister Christie said in July 2016 that his government was close to finalizing a possible buyer for the Baha Mar casino resort and negotiations were currently taking place.