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Casino company to compete with Paradise's boat

The 128-foot gaming boat will compete with Paradise of Port Richey's casino.

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2001


The 128-foot gaming boat will compete with Paradise of Port Richey's casino.

PORT RICHEY -- Stardancer Casino Cruises plans to start running a gaming boat from the Pithlachascotee River by mid June. The company promises restaurant-quality food, more seating than traditional gaming boats and entertainment that is a mix of karaoke, live music and magicians.

Stardancer, a 3-year-old company based in Little River, S.C., will offer competition to Paradise of Port Richey, which has run boats based on the river since 1995. When Stardancer started dredging the area last month, the companies made trespassing complaints against each other and filed complaints with the Department of Environmental Protection. At the time, an attorney for Paradise said the company would file suit against Stardancer. It has not done so.

Stardancer chief executive Sam Gray Sr. said Wednesday that his boats would offer a more comfortable gaming experience with a full-service galley featuring everything from prime rib to chicken, fish, and vegetables on a buffet.

Stardancer has casino boats in Miami Beach; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Fernandina Beach. A casino in Madeira Beach opened last year. Gray's son, Sam Gray Jr., will oversee the Port Richey operation. Stardancer plans to provide a 128-foot gaming boat and two 50-foot shuttles to travel to the boats in the Gulf of Mexico. The company plans to hire about 150 employees.

Initially, Stardancer will offer complimentary admission, the elder Gray said. The company later will charge $10 for admission, but locals and those who can present a boarding card from a previous trip will be admitted free of charge.

Mollie Kolokithas, co-owner of Paradise of Port Richey, said her company does not plan to change the way it operates.

"As long as everything is done strictly to code, and they obey all laws and environmental regulations, we have no problem," she said.

Paradise has a 110-foot boat in the gulf and two shuttles that take passengers out to it. Paradise offers karaoke entertainment and charges $5 admission. Admission is free for frequent customers.

Gray said competition between the companies would make each provide an optimum level of service.

"I don't look to have any battles," he said.

Paradise also clarified reports about incidents earlier this week that twice kept one of its shuttle boats from ferrying customers back from the gaming boat as usual -- once because it ran out of gas and a second time because of low tide. But Paradise port captain Chris Conner said that the shuttle first returned to the docks at midnight, two hours earlier than the deck hand originally reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard, which is supposed to be contacted when boats lose power, is investigating the incident. Conner said that boat's captain followed proper procedure.

"We did everything properly," Kolokithas added.

- Jennifer Goldblatt covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6229.

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