Malaysian resort conglomerate Genting Group has gone to federal court in the United States warning of “incalculable” losses if U.S. officials continue to prohibit the company from using foreign labor on gambling “cruises to nowhere” that ply international waters between Miami and its new casino on Bimini.
The 1,500-passenger Bimini SuperFast was launched in July to open the remodeled and rebranded Resorts World Bimini to the South Florida market while it continues to lobby state lawmakers for a Miami casino. The boat began leasing space at the Port of Miami to shuttle players to Bimini and also run nighttime excursions with more of a party atmosphere where passengers can dine, drink and gamble in international waters on the SuperFast’s casino and return to the port.
Then the problems started. Efforts to build a pier in Bimini to berth the ship were held up by environmentalists, who stalled the project in a Bahamas court for months. Construction has since begun, and the pier should be operational by the summer, but in the meantime, transferring passengers from the SuperFast to a smaller vessel has proven difficult, especially in rough seas, and the day shuttle has been scaled back to weekends only.
Then in November, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency issued the order banning foreign workers from the night excursions. The workers serve drinks, take tickets and perform other functions not directly related to operating the ship. It’s a common maritime practice where foreign ports of call are involved because the workers can be paid less than U.S. minimum wages and operators aren’t required to remit payroll taxes or adhere to U.S. workplace and labor laws.
The CPB argues that “cruises to nowhere” don’t qualify for exemption because they do not dock outside the U.S. and their passengers never set foot on foreign soil. The agency issued an order to halt the service, which Genting did, then immediately sued in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to overturn it.
The CPB has suggested in its response that Genting could regularize the situation by hiring American workers. Genting, however, says replacing the 250-member crew would be “cost-prohibitive.” In court papers filed in the Bahamas over the pier dispute, the company said it expects to lose US$11 million with the SuperFast this year, and in December told the U.S. court that losing the nighttime cruise revenue could imperil the entire venture.
“Without the Evening Excursion, Resorts World Bimini simply cannot generate the revenues needed to continue the Day Excursions, meet our financial commitments, and otherwise continue the foregoing contributions to the local economy in Miami,” wrote Gregory Karan, senior vice president of Bimini SuperFast Operations. “The potential losses are incalculable.”
The CPB responded in a motion earlier that month that “Plaintiffs have come to the court asking it save them from a series of bad business decisions. Plaintiffs still possess multiple courses of action that would help them avoid any potential harm to their parent company’s $39 billion market capitalization.”
The judge in the case has asked lawyers for both sides to clarify their arguments.