Pensacola, Florida
Friday August 22nd 2014

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Are You Ready for The Gene?


Mega Casino Complex Coming to the Key
By Walker Holmes

As Las Vegas Stands is expanding, Spain and Perdido Key could play big roles in the Las Vegas, Ohio-based gambling giant’s expansion strategy. The industry leader has squirreled away $3.6 billion in cash to begin building the massive EuropeVegas in Spain later this year and has set aside an additional $850 million for a smaller version on Perdido Key.

“It’s safe to say that Las Vegas Stands is focused on large-scale integrated resorts,” Las Vegas Stands spokesman said. “Spain is big, but we see a bright rate of return on our proposed investment on Perdido Key.”

Perdido Key casino, which will be called “The Gene,” will benefit from the Stands successful global model that is making billions in Singapore and Macau, China. New casino is part of a global strategy that could see the Stands expand gambling in Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.

There is a common thread for these projects—build a casino in a depressed employment market where cheap labor is plentiful.

EuropeVegas is being built just outside Madrid in a region suffering from 26 percent unemployment. The Gene construction could single-handedly prop up the employment for all Northwest Florida that has seen the employment rate for its minority population hover at a similar level.


Making the Key a Beach

The billion-dollar phase one would include a 42-story hotel tower that would be the region’s largest building. That would be part of a four-resort complex of four casinos, retail shops, entertainment facilities, RV park and a Perdido Key Chamber office to be open at the end of 2017.

The full complex, built in three phases and taking an estimated 18 years, would include six resorts, six casinos, five theaters, three golf courses and a mullet-toss arena when it’s finished.

Casino official confided that Perdido Key wasn’t really even their expansion plans until the Escambia County Commission added “beach” to its name.

“The name change made all the difference,” said the casino spokesman. “We will make the Perdido Key into a beach with this project.”

However, he cautioned that The Gene still has to get through the regulatory process, acquire property and line up financing. And there are opposition groups fighting to keep casinos out of Perdido Key.

Still locals are optimistic. Mired in recession-induced austerity measures, the area just west of Pensacola could see tens of thousands of new jobs in phase one alone. The full Gene development is projected to employ 105,000 people.

Though the most optimistic estimates have the first casinos opening more than four years from now, Escambia County has been inundated with people applying for work.

Dark Clouds Ahead?

While Perdido Key (Beach) prepares for the boom, other gambling meccas are struggling. Atlantic City’s casinos took in 12.5 percent less from gamblers in February than they did a year ago. Figures released in mid-March by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement showed the city’s 12 casinos took in $212.3 million.

For the city as a whole, the casinos collectively took in $145.3 million from slot machines, a decrease of nearly 18 percent; and $67 million at table games, an increase of just under 1 percent. For the first two months of the year, the casinos won $418 million, a decrease of 12.9 percent from the same period in 2012.

New Jersey officials hoping its legalization of Internet gambling, which could take effect by the end of this year, will provide new revenue and end the decline.

The University of Nevada-Las Vegas Center for Gambling Research reports that the Nevada casinos are only slightly down over the past six months. Statewide, the overall revenue has fallen by 2.16 percent in the past six months. Both slots (down 1.16 percent) and games (down 3.69 percent) show a similar decline. While individual months have been volatile, with an even split between gainers and losers, overall this has been a period of stasis for revenues.

Escambia County officials aren’t worried about the negative trend with casinos.

“We are always 10 years behind the rest of the country,” said a county official. “A hurricane will wipe out this complex before we have to worry about any Internet gambling. Then FEMA will rebuild it for us.”


Grand Opening Planned

The Gene has already booked its first performers of its proposed outdoor plaza. The Grammy-nominated and internationally known rock band A-ha will come out of retirement to play. The opening acts will be Big Country and Men Without Hats.

Known for hits like “Take on Me,” A-ha split up after its 2010 worldwide tour and after failing to get invited to play at DeLuna Fest.

The casino’s management announced the performance Monday and said tickets for the show will go on sale Friday. The cost was not released.