CHRISTIANSTED -- Treasure Bay Corp., a Biloxi, Miss., casino group, plans to operate a hotel/casino at the 150-room Grapetree Shores Resort under renovation on St. Croix's east end.

If the Casino Control Commission of the U.S. Virgin Islands approves Treasure Bay's application, the facility would be the first gaming operation to open in the U.S.V.I. since passage of the casino act in October 1995.

According to Michael Watson, a commission member, the application must first receive a favorable review from the U.S. Virgin Islands' Division of Gaming Enforcement and then receive a majority of the votes of the five-member casino commission.

Three representatives from St. Croix and one each from St. John and St. Thomas make up the commission.

Treasure Bay's plans call for a 10,000-square-foot casino with 300 or more slot machines; 12 gaming tables offering baccarat, Caribbean poker, blackjack and other games; a buffet; a snack bar, and a gift shop as well as meeting space for 500.

On the hotel end, the 150-room Grapetree Shores is the former Grapetree Beach Resort, which was operated by Divi Hotels.

The facility has been closed since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Watson said that the renovated hotel "will open in February, regardless of the outcome of the casino application."

If the application is approved, the hotel and casino will open simultaneously.

The casino structure exists, but has to be totally rebuilt and refurbished.

The casino law applies only to St. Croix and was designed specifically to stimulate tourism on that island by increasing the number of hotel rooms and making the destination attractive to investors.

Watson said the commission has fielded "a number of serious inquiries since 1995, but none has progressed as far as Treasure Bay has," Watson said.

Casino Control Commission chairman Eileen Petersen has received a check for $75,000 from Treasure Bay.

The sum represents half of the fee for a two-year license to operate a hotel-casino of that size.

The money is nonrefundable, even if the license is not approved.

Watson said that local reaction to the announcement of Treasure Bay's actions is "great."

Residents age 21 and older will be permitted to use the casino.

Hours of operation "will probably go from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m., with 24-hour action on weekends," Watson said.

The training of croupiers for the casino falls under the auspices of the Dept. of Tourism; instructors from a gaming school in Las Vegas will do on-site training on St. Croix.

The casino will employ between 150 and 175 people, Watson said.

Shuttles will operate from Christiansted to the resort, 30 minutes east.

Revenue from the casino operation will be distributed to all three islands, although a certain amount will be earmarked specifically for the promotion of St. Croix.

According to the casino law, existing hotels can add gaming facilities provided they renovate and expand their room count by 50 rooms.

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