SYDNEY, Australia (January 4, 2002 – Sydney Morning Herald/PINA Nius Online)---The powerful earthquakes that rocked Vanuatu this week ruined the launch of the country’s new international online gambling center, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today.

The first undersea quake measured 7.4 on the Richter scale and was the worst Vanuatu has experienced since 1994. The second quake measured at least 6.7.

In the first quake, a large landslide blocked access to the wharf in Port Vila. A bridge linking the capital with the north of the island of Éfaté sustained major damage.

The earthquakes disrupted plans by Kerry and James Packer's PBL to launch its Vanuatu-based online casino yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

PBL is now confident that the Web site will be up and running within 24 hours, the newspaper said.

The PBL gaming office in Vanuatu is located in one of the most structurally sound buildings in the capital, Port Vila, and suffered only a crack in one of its walls. PBL also has its own power generator.

The earthquake caused widespread damage, but no deaths have been reported.

Power and water supplies were initially disrupted, but have since been restored. Shops suffered the most damage, with many goods destroyed.

The earthquake's epicenter was 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Port Vila and could be felt up to 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away, according to Geoscience Australia.

The Australian Government has offered Vanuatu money and emergency management expertise to help assess the damage.

The Vanuatu-based http://crowngames.com has been designed to simulate a real life casino experience, enabling gamblers to play both slot games and table games (such as blackjack and baccarat) on the Internet.

Players will have to provide various forms of identification and deposit a minimum amount of money into an account before they will be able to gamble at Crowngames.com.

In order to comply with government regulations, Australian, New Zealand and U.S. residents will be denied access to Crowngames.com. Instead PBL will target Asian gamblers, who are already familiar with the Crown brand name through the company’s casino in Melbourne.

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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