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  • Suit follows suit in SunCruz Casino boat name dispute

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    Suit follows suit in SunCruz Casino boat name dispute

    The new owners of SunCruz demand that a couple stop using the name. The couple sues in a brewing dispute over the gambling boat business.

    By CARY DAVIS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Alex and Mollie Kolokithas lured a SunCruz Casino boat to Port Richey in 1995. They bought dock space in Pasco, Pinellas and Citrus counties and leased gambling boats from SunCruz founder Gus Boulis. They spent millions in advertising to promote the SunCruz name.

    For five years, the Kolokithases enjoyed a lucrative and friendly partnership with SunCruz.

    So imagine the Kolokithases' dismay this month when buses emblazoned with the SunCruz label picked up potential clients in Pasco and took them down to a competitor's gambling ship in Clearwater.

    That scenario, described in a lawsuit filed by the Kolokithases in Pasco Circuit Court on Tuesday, highlights the growing dispute over the SunCruz name and the battle to control the gambling boat industry in west central Florida.

    The Kolokithases' problems began in September, when Boulis sold SunCruz -- for $147.5-million -- to a group of South Florida investors.

    In the wake of the sale, an adversarial relationship developed between the new SunCruz owners and the Kolokithases. The relationship has deteriorated to the point where the new owners, in addition to busing clients down to a Clearwater dock, are considering bringing a gambling ship to Port Richey to compete with the Kolokithases, who no longer lease boats from SunCruz.

    Earlier this month, the new owners filed suit in federal court to force the Kolokithases to stop using the SunCruz name.

    "We paid a lot of money for those boats and the right to the name," said Adam Kidan, chairman of SunCruz Casinos LLC. "We intend to defend our rights in every court."

    In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Pasco, the Kolokithases say they should have the sole rights to the SunCruz name in the region because they were instrumental to the company's success here. They have continued to use the SunCruz logo on their boats, despite severing their relationship with the new owners.

    "It's clear that they're being bullied," said the Kolokithases' attorney, John Johnson of the Tampa firm Trenam, Kemker, Scharf, Barkin, Frye, O'Neill & Mullins. "They are determined. This is a business they've put their blood, sweat and tears into. They're not going to be cheated."

    The lawsuit lays most of the blame on Boulis for negotiating the sale of SunCruz without informing the Kolokithases.

    The Kolokithases say they should have been included in talks because their gambling business, Paradise of Port Richey, depended on SunCruz boats. They say Boulis, as a 50 percent owner of Paradise and the president of the company, had a duty to inform the Kolokithases about the impending sale of the boats.

    What's more, Boulis promised the new SunCruz owners that he would make a good-faith effort to persuade the Kolokithases to sell their share in Paradise, according to the lawsuit.

    In November, Boulis entered into a contract to buy the Kolokithases' shares in Paradise for $4.5-million. But Boulis didn't show up for the Dec. 4 closing date, and the deal still hasn't been consummated.

    Boulis, meanwhile, still is a major player in SunCruz. According to the lawsuit, he agreed to stay on as a consultant for SunCruz in exchange for a 10-percent ownership in the company.

    That agreement, the lawsuit alleges, violates a non-compete clause Boulis has had with the Kolokithases since their partnership began in 1995.

    The lawsuit seeks damages and asks a judge to prevent Boulis from sharing any information about Paradise with the new SunCruz owners.

    An attorney for Boulis had no comment on Wednesday.

    - Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is cbdavis@sptimes.com.

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