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Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 12:00 UK

Jamaica moves to legalise casinos

Roulette wheel - file photo
Jamaica's government hopes casinos will boost the economy

The Jamaican government has announced its backing for gambling in casinos to be legalised, despite stiff opposition from religious groups.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding said he had already given the green light to a group of international investors planning the island's first casino.

Casino deals would bring in money for areas like health and schools, he said.

Parliament will now consider the proposals which opponents say will bring no benefit to Jamaican society.

Slot machines and other gaming devices are found in bars and hotels across Jamaica but until now casinos have not been permitted.

Speaking during a budget debate on Tuesday, Mr Golding said he had already given approval for moves to set up the first casino.

"There are those who I know disagree with casino gambling. But the fact is that the horse bolted through the gate a long time ago with the granting of licences for hundreds of gaming machines," Mr Golding told parliament.

He said studies had shown casino gambling would be a viable industry, and bring employment.

'Sad day'

Mr Golding said casino licences would be granted on condition that an investor commit at least $1.5bn (760m) towards the project which must involve a hotel with no fewer than 1,000 rooms.

Bruce Golding speaking after being sworn in September 2007
Mr Golding has been prime minister since last September

The casino component could be no more than 20% of the total project, he added.

"It is our intention to dedicate the revenues from casino operations to a special fund to finance capital development in health, education and security," Mr Golding said.

But churches and religious groups in Jamaica decried the decision as a "sad day" for Jamaica.

"We have always said that gambling, including casino gambling, is personally selfish, morally irresponsible and socially destructive," said the Reverend Peter Garth, head of the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals, told the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

The Bishop of Jamaica, the Right Reverend Alfred Reid, said the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands remained "averse to the idea".

"Our position has not changed; the Church still holds to its view that casino gambling is not in the best interest of our people," he said in a statement to Jamaican media.


SEE ALSO
Jamaica confirms opposition win
07 Sep 07 |  Americas
Country profile: Jamaica
06 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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