First Samoa Casino Officially Opens Its Doors

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PM speaks at small ceremony opening Whitesands Casino

By B. Chen

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 7, 2014) – The Whitesands Casino, the first casino to open its doors — in Samoa — officially opened this past Friday (Saturday, October 4 Samoa Time), in a small ceremony attended by local residents, parliament members, heads of different government departments, with special remarks offered by the Prime Minister of Samoa.

The event included the presence of visitors from American Samoa, the Orient, as well other countries, i.e. New Zealand, Australia, etc.

In his remarks, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi spoke briefly about comments that have been lodged since before, during, and after the law was passed to allow the casinos to operate in the independent state.

Tuilaepa said everything that led up to making casinos legal to operate in Samoa was tiring and strenuous, with the opposition consistently arguing that casino gambling is "evil". However, he added, it is no secret that higher ups, including church ministers, are frequent bingo players, and also place bets during golf games and horse races. The hypocrisy, he said, basically sums up to: "casino is evil – bingo is good".

This garnered laughter from those in attendance, some of whom were Samoa residents that were allowed – for that night only – to tour the casino and gamble.

Tuilaepa stressed that people holding Samoa passports, under the law, are NOT allowed to play in the casinos. He said anyone else, even Samoans holding passports from the United States and New Zealand, are allowed to freely gamble in the casino, because they are "foreigners" — there to gamble, an ‘evil’ act.

"Don’t ask me about the specifics of this law because even I don’t understand it," the Prime Minister said as the crowd burst into laughter.

The PM did make it clear that the casinos are to pay a commission to the Samoa government, money that he says will be spent to enhance the infrastructure and fund other things because nowadays, there are a lot of ‘fia ola’ people who come day in and day out to ask for money.

The Whitesands Casino, in Mulifanua, is a two-story structure that includes 100 slot machines and ten gaming tables for baccarat, roulette, black jack, and progressive poker. (Texas Hold ‘Em, a favorite amongst American Samoa gamblers, is not offered – yet.)

The slot machines are the penny, 2-cents, and 5-cent ones, some of which are located in a separate area outside the first floor for smokers. There a progressive slot machines, and a lot of them are similar to those found on the floor of the New Zealand casino, Sky.

Whitesands has a bar on each floor, offering free drinks. During opening night, guests were treated to a live band, pupus and drinks that included Samoa’s own beers. Samoa residents were seen trying out the slot machines and table games, taking advantage of their ‘one chance’ to do so.

The casino staff is composed mostly of Samoan card dealers, cage workers and cashiers. They have all been newly trained, leading up to the casino opening, which included a ‘soft’ opening during the SIDS’ conference held a couple of months ago in Samoa.

Staff "decided this is a career that they want to pursue, something in the hospitality industry that can get them a job anywhere in the world and not keep them obligated to plantation work," said Kevin Scorgie, the executive director of Gaming Concepts, Asia’s world class gaming partner that has opened many casinos around the world including Thailand and the Philippines.

Scorgie told the Samoa News that the Whitesands Casino, the tenth casino to open under the directorship of Gaming Concepts, was a project that started earlier this year in June and the work was expedited because the Prime Minister wanted them to open up for business in time for the SIDS conference which brought with it thousands of visitors.

He said that although floor supervisors and managers were flown in from the Far East, specifically the Philippines, the goal is to train locals and get them up to par to assume supervisory roles and eventually run their casino without outside help.

He said he was very impressed with how quickly the locals adapted to the system and how much they learned within the short weeks they underwent training.

"During training, we had to let go of some people because of issues including bad attitude but the group we ended up with, I am very proud of them. They have proven that they are eager to learn, they want to work," the Executive Director said.

Scorgie noted, "These locals that have been hired realize that casinos around the world basically operate the same games and that means, they can take the skills and training they learned here and find a job in the same industry anywhere in the world. These people don’t want to work on a plantation all their lives and securing a job here in the casino is the start of their journey to seeing the world."

The casino’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Feeney says the Whitesands will continue to expand and get better, as they try to accommodate the different kinds of players who want to try their hand at Whitesands, including a target market from American Samoa.

When asked about adding more games to their list of offerings, including Texas Hold ‘Em, Feeney said he will definitely look into it. He pointed at an area on the gaming floor to this Samoa News reporter, asking, "Two tables for American Samoa’s players — would that be enough?" SN reply: "Sure - to begin with… set them up, and they will come…"

The games that are available right now at Whitesands seem to be drawing the players. Samoa News personally witnessed an Asian delegation of high rollers sitting at the baccarat table for hours — going back and forth — win or lose. The players left on the same flight as us, returning to American Samoa, on their way to Hawai’i and the US mainland.

BTW: Money used to play is Samoa Tala. They will convert whatever cash you have to the tala, and Samoa has enough banks and currency exchange places - no problem to convert back to your home-cash. They said they are working on adding an ATM machine to the casino service, but right now are still working to get it in.

Whitesands will be a definite attraction for players from all over the globe who are looking to gamble and enjoy spending their money in a tropical beach front setting offered at Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort. If you don’t stay at Aggie’s - then there’s a free shuttle bus available for transport to and from the casino — just call them up for their daily schedule — they are accommodating.

Aggie’s and Whitesands are owned by the Grey family but managed and operated separately: Aggie’s by the Sheraton and Whitesands by Gaming Concepts.

The casino, in Mulifanua, is located adjacent to Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort — it is not a part of the hotel. However, the locale of the casino, including the one that will open next year in the Apia town area, does make it convenient to room & dine at Aggie’s, if you so desire — or even for a short break.)

To enter the casino, players must present their passport or other travel documents. The information is then input on to a "hotel guest referral card" that becomes your pass for entering the casino.

Samoa News was told there is some disappointment by holders of Samoa passports that have "resident" status outside of Samoa — that there is no exception for them under the law.

However, Tuilaepa in his opening remarks, said that there can be amendments to the law in the future, but right now it’s a ‘wait and see issue’ while the opposition are insisting the ‘casino is evil’ and therefore can only be open to foreigners. Faifeau concerns, the PM said, include people spending their money at the casino and letting their families starve, as well as less money for the churches.

Under the Casino and Gambling Control Act 2010, the "ONLY" persons allowed to enter into a casino in Samoa are people who (1) hold a foreign passport and (2) are REGISTERED GUESTS at the casino hotel complex or of another hotel that qualifies as a "HOTEL" as defined in the Income Tax Act 2012.

The Whitesands Casino is open every day (including Sunday) from 2 p.m. The first floor closes at 2 a.m. while the second floor is open until 4 a.m.

Both floors have sitting areas for those wanting to chit chat, lounge around, or use their electronic devices to check mail and conduct business. There are bonuses for the big spenders and Scorgie said promotions and comps for regular players and high rollers are available.

The Whitesands Casino that opened last Friday, is located only minutes from the Faleolo Airport at the Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort. The other casino, bigger than the current one, is still being constructed in the downtown Apia area, and is set to open next year in May, in time for Samoa’s Independence Day celebrations.

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