Resort Director Voices Support For Casinos In Samoa

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Lupesina Fred Grey cites possible employment, tourism benefits

By Mata’afa Keni Lesa

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, March 4, 2013) – The Aggie Grey’s Reef Resort has thrown its weight behind Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s push for the establishment of casinos in Samoa.

In a rare media interview, Director of the country’s second largest employer, Lupesina Fred Grey tells the Sunday Samoan that criticisms leveled at Prime Minister Tuilaepa are "unfortunate."

But he says it is time for people to accept the fact that casinos are here to stay.

"The law has been passed by Parliament and the process up until this point in terms of issuing the licenses has been very transparent and accountable," says Lupesina.

"We’ve got to be able to see the bigger picture. We need to look at the possibility of creating more employment, foreign exchange, tourism development, new activities for tourism and taxes for the government and the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) which will ultimately benefit young people whether its through sport or education."

Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort is one of two companies that have been issued with licenses by the Gambling Control Authority (GCA). The second license has been given to a China-based tourism group called Exhibition and Tourism Group (ETG).

At a time when the world’s economy is struggling, Lupesina hailed Prime Minister Tuilaepa as a "visionary." He says the man "deserves a gold medal for his vision".

"Samoa needs to be innovative and move ahead with the times. I think what the Prime Minister has done is great. He's a visionary in pushing Samoa ahead on all fronts and making it modern. Sure there are negatives with any change but that is life.

"With everything, there will always be pros and cons. The important thing is that we learn to adapt and adjust so that we move ahead with these developments but we don't lose sight of what and who we are as a people."

Lupesina points out that many of our social problems, especially theft and robbery, are the result of unemployment.

"There is a real need to create new jobs so that money is generated to stimulate the economy," Lupesina says. "I’m thinking of not just the major business operators but also the men and women in the villages who are making handicrafts, printing elei materials, the taxi drivers, the fishermen, the restaurant and bar operators and so forth.

"So these casinos will not just benefit a few people but a whole country. The money generated from jobs and the business it will bring will have a flow on effect and it will benefit the country, including the churches."

Lupesina says "the construction of the facility to host the casino at Mulifanua is making good progress.

"We are in negotiations with a reputable casino management company in Macau called Asia Pacific Gambling (APG) to manage the operation once all our due diligence is complete and we are satisfied that the controls and management systems they bring are safe and reputable so as to protect the Resort but our people as well."

Asked to comment on fears about prostitution, money laundering and other evils associated with gambling, Lupesina was circumspect.

"I can understand why there are those fears," he says. "But I’m confident in our people, our Christian and cultural values that no matter what happens, we will not sway.

"In terms of prostitution, I don't think there will be any because the Casinos will be within the Resorts and the controls will be in place from the Resorts aspect as well as the management company managing the casino.

"There won't be any money laundering as in today’s modern world, the banks are so stringent on money exchange. The system is so regulated to the point where even sending WST50 [US$21.18] is closely scrutinized."

Lupesina agrees with the need for the local authorities to be strict in monitoring the laws that govern gambling.

"The law is very clear on who and who cannot gamble," he says. "I don't think we need to worry about that."

So where will Samoa get the tourists from for the casinos?

"We need to encourage the Chinese tourism market to look to Samoa. Millions of them are flocking to the Maldives and other destinations but with the proposed plan to begin direct flights from China to Apia, we should really target them to fill our hotels and resorts."

Lupesina says he couldn't agree more with Australian businessman, James Packer when he identified that "China is the biggest opportunity" for everyone.

Said Mr. Packer: "In 2000, China had about 10 million overseas trips a year. In 2010, that was up to 50 million overseas trips a year. And in 2020, it's forecast to be 100 million overseas trips a year. And Chinese tourism is changing the world. Eighty percent of Chinese travelling outside the country for the first time head for a casino and 90 percent of Chinese who travel to the US visit Las Vegas.''

Lupesina says these statistics are promising for Samoa.

"I’m pleased that the other license has been given to ETG. We need more resorts like what ETG are planning so it’s a win-win for all of Samoa and more flights, especially from China to Samoa.

"I think the Samoa Tourism Authority is doing a fantastic job promoting Samoa but we need to push on and look beyond what we see today and explore new markets like China, India, South America which are all emerging markets.

And lastly, does he think gambling will harm Samoa?

"Gambling is already here," says Lupesina. "Bingo is gambling, buying a lotto ticket is gambling, raffles are gambling and most of these activities are done in church buildings and village halls so it’s already here. It’s been here for years.

"What’s important, now I think, is we should prepare our people for the casinos and make them aware of the pros of having them in Samoa. We also need to educate our people about how to deal with negative side of it rather then being negative about it. It’s here to stay whether we like it or not.

The Casino at Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort is expected to have 85 poker machines and six gambling tables for black jack and other games and will be managed solely by the Macau based Asia Pacific Gambling.

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