Tourism Co. budget holds up despite casino closings
Casino closings this year have not adversely impacted the budget of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. which depends largely on casino taxes for its operations, Executive Director Ingrid Rivera-Rocafort told News Is My Business.
The agency’s budget of $116 million, two thirds of which comes from casino revenue (the balance is room taxes), has not been affected because “we have been working hard on closing illegal casinos” and legal casinos are reporting increases in slot machine revenue, she said.
In September, the Tourism Co. kicked off a series of raids aimed at taking out of circulation some of the thousands of illegal gambling machines operating across the island. The action is made possible by a recent law empowering the agency to oversee and regulate slot machines. Under Law 77 of 2014, it is illegal for any commercial establishment such as a department store, gasoline station, restaurant or pharmacy to operate gambling machines within its premises.
The agency recently reported that since last December it has seized more than 400 illegal gaming machines and set fines of $1.5 million. Still, this is a drop in the bucket considering an estimated 45,000 illegal machines at large.
Rivera said increased slot machine revenue in legal casinos may indicate that people who previously played in non-legal establishments are now turning to legal casinos. This is helping to balance off the recent loss of important casinos, she said.
These include the Condado Plaza Casino, which closed in July and the Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino, which closed down in April. Rivera said there is interest in buying the Radisson hotel and she is hoping to have good news to report soon.
The casino at the Condado Plaza Hilton, in business for 40 years, was one of the biggest in Puerto Rico. At the time of its closing, management put the blame on a 40 percent drop in the use of slot machines over the past decade.
Manager Raúl Bustamente said the hotel plans to turn the casino into “one of the largest ballrooms in the city, in this way expanding our space for meetings and exhibitions to 55,000-square-feet.”