Alegria Resort wants to put Dunes Casino out of businessPOSTED: 06/28/16 8:07 PM
Photo Today / Hilbert Haar
St. Maarten News – The Alegria Resort is at war with the Dunes Casino and it wants the government to revoke the gaming house’s permit. The resort has been in and out of court ever since Ray Sidhom bought the former Caravanserai Resort at auction in 2014 for $14 million. The resort has plans to open a casino of its own, though it has not yet obtained a permit for this venture.
Yesterday Alegria was in court in an attempt to get a provisional ruling from the court about its request to the Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs to annul the casino permit of Dunes. Because the minister has not taken a decision about this request yet, Alegria’s attorney Charles Rutte asked the court for a provisional ruling. Rutte considers the non-action by the minister unlawful.
In 2014, International Financial Planning Services (IFPS) obtained the right of long lease to the parcel of land on the Caravanserai Resort where the Dunes Casino stands. The Dunes leases the property from IFPS. Later that same year, the Caravanserai Resort – with the exclusion of the casino – was sold at auction to Ray Sidhom, the owner of EVO Payments, an American credit card payment processor. Sidhom established Alegria Real Estate as the entity that now owns the resort.
The Dunes Casino was originally a hotel-based gaming house. The country’s casino policy allows for the establishment of casinos at hotels that have at least 200 rooms. The ceiling for stand-alone casinos has been set at ten.
The attorney for Alegria argued yesterday that the Dunes became a stand-alone casino after the transfer to IFPS in 2014 and that its permit (as a hotel-based casino) therefore is no longer valid. The minister has to act, Rutte said.
“The Dunes does not qualify for a permit for a stand-alone casino, so it has no right to exist anymore,” Rutte said. “The minister has to revoke the permit when a casino no longer meets the requirements. If the minister does not do that, she violates the law.”
Rutte furthermore said that Alegria “does not want to be associated with the Dunes Casino in any way,” citing potential damage to the resort’s reputation without getting into specifics. He also noted that Alegria wants to open its own casino shortly.
“If Alegria does not want to be next to the Dunes Casino, it should not have bought the resort,” the attorney for Minister Arrindell, Aernout Kraaijeveld said. He brushed aside the distinction between hotel-based and stand-alone casinos as irrelevant.
“The fact that the casino is now operated by a third party is insufficient to revoke the permit,” he said.
Kraaijeveld furthermore noted that Alegria did not substantiate its claim that the presence of the casino damages its reputation. “There is no evidence of money laundering and the risk of a raid by the police is very speculative.”
Honoring Alegria’s request to revoke the permit would make 40 to 50 staff members of the casino jobless. “The casino will not be able to generate turnover and it will suffer damages,” Kraaijeveld said. This will result in significant economic damages, personal sorrow for the employees and the suppliers and a lot of unrest. That is at odds with the general interest and the government is the guardian of that general interest.”
Kraaijeveld concluded that Alegria has to be declared inadmissible in its request, because it is an attempt to circumvent the decision making process by the minister.
Dunes attorney Willem Nelissen noted that this is “the umpteenth legal procedure initiated by Alegria to harass long-established companies at the former Caravanserai Resort until they leave.”
Nelissen said that there is no urgency and that Alegria has not presented any evidence of damages it suffers. GN Entertainment, the entity that operates the Dunes Casino, obtained its permit in 2011. Algeria’s request to the court is not against this permit, but against the fictitious refusal by the Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs to take a decision about the request to revoke the casino’s permit.
The attorney furthermore pointed out that Alegria has not substantiated the damages it claims to incur from the presence of the casino. “They speak of unfair competition; how this is a consequence of the fictitious refusal is unclear. What is clear however, is that Alegria does not have a casino that could compete with Dunes.”
The risk of reputation damages is “purely hypothetical,” Nelissen said. “The Dunes Casino operates on a strictly legal basis. It would not surprise GN entertainment if shortly the newspapers are full of accusations against the company. The concept ‘if it cannot be done willingly, then it should be done unwillingly’ is no stranger to Alegria.”
Nelissen concluded that Alegria wants a ban on the casino-operations as long as it is waiting for a decision on its appeal against the fictitious refusal by the minister. “The interest of GN Entertainment clearly outweighs the interest of Alegria.”
Judge Katja Mans said that the procedure initiated by Alegria was a special one. “There are no examples of provisional rulings about a case where there is an appeal procedure ongoing. The court is able to suspend a decree, but in this case there is no decree.”
The court will pronounce its judgment tomorrow before 4 p.m.