Representatives of the Guyana Gaming Authority yesterday visited the US$20M Sleepin Hotel and Carnival Casino on Church Street to conduct a site visit and according to businessman Clifton Bacchus he was asked a number of questions relating to the installation of slot machines and other matters.
Bacchus told Stabroek News that the group inspected the hotel rooms, the casino, conference room and other facilities.
The inspection is part of the process in addressing an application for a casino licence. Bacchus had applied previously but the application was rejected by the Authority for his failure to comply with stipulated requirements. He applied a second time and it is this application which prompted the visit.
According to Bacchus who has another hotel on Church Street and another on Brickdam, the group spent about an hour at the site. He said though the application applies to the operation of the casino, one of requirements is that the hotel has to have at least 150 rooms, hence the reason for the rooms being inspected by the group.
In 2014, he noted that he signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the then Donald Ramotar administration for a licence to operate a casino once he was able to complete construction in line with several specifications.
Bacchus yesterday said during the visit, “they ask back for the MoU”. He said that he has already installed over 190 machines and he was asked how he managed to get possession of the machines.
According to the businessman he explained that as part of the MoU with the previous government, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) authorised the release of the machines ahead of him being granted the casino licence.
“They were released close to year ago and I install them and they are ready to work”, he said.
Bacchus repeatedly stressed that the machines though installed are not in use. He said that the Authority’s representatives looked at the machines and indicated that they wanted all the serial numbers. The businessman said that he reminded them that both of his applications had this information and all other documents they were requesting.
He said at the end of the visit, he was told that he would be contacted at a later date. No time frame was given, he said.
Earlier this week it was revealed that Bacchus and several of his associates are subjects of a money laundering probe being conducted by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU). The investigation according to a letter sent by SOCU Head to the Gaming Authority’s Chairman Roysdale Force began in July 2016. In the letter which was a response to a request for information made by Forde, James said that financial and other assets information have been sourced through court orders and other requests were made for pertinent information from statutory agencies.
These comments were contained in a Guyana Chronicle article published on Monday. Bacchus has since said that the revelation has shocked him as he is unaware that he was being investigated.
Forde in a comment to this newspaper confirmed receiving the information but made it clear that it is yet to be used in the consideration of the granting of Bacchus’s application.
“The Authority has not completed its consideration of the hotel’s application (for a casino licence) and we have not reviewed the letter for the purposes of the application, so we can’t say what impact that letter by itself can have on the application,” Forde said.
Bacchus in a statement to the media on Monday said that the documents, which he has submitted to the Authority, clearly establishes the source of his financing as loans from local commercial banks secured by mortgages, along with monies from an overseas investor secured by loan agreements and mortgages. “These documents are all filed as of record with the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority. Copies have been submitted to the Gaming Authority. If SOCU requires them, I will gladly supply copies to them,” he said, while reiterating that SOCU has never made contact with him.
In the circumstances, he said it is clear “that some highly placed person” in government is “executing an agenda of malice and vendetta against me with the intention of tarnishing my reputation, stigmatising my business and jeopardising my investments. I am fortified in this view because the Government’s newspaper is being used to do so.”
Bacchus further charged that the alleged campaign against him is doing untold damage to the image of the country as an investment destination.