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Stardancer Casino's path gets clearer

Two governmental actions appear to ease the way for the newcomer gambling ship operator to enter the market.

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 14, 2001


PORT RICHEY -- Barriers blocking Stardancer Casino Cruises from coming to Port Richey seem to be falling by the day.

On Wednesday, Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials joined the city in telling Paradise of Port Richey, Stardancer's competitors, to remove docks that were built without permits that blocked Stardancer from bringing in shuttle boats.

And on Tuesday night, the City Council voted to study waterfront development, but not to impose a building moratorium many in the city thought was aimed to stop Stardancer, but legally couldn't.

But that's not to say the fight is over.

Stardancer has to get permits from the city to build its shuttle boat waiting area on the waterfront, and its shuttles have yet to come into the marina the company is leasing. Stardancer vice president Sam Gray Jr. has said he hoped to be open as early as this week, but a date for its first cruise isn't set.

Both companies have been complaining to government agencies about each other, and Port Richey City Attorney Paul Marino said at some point, the two gambling boat companies might have to go to court to settle their differences.

"Everybody's been playing games in this situation," Marino said.

An example of the public relations games the two are playing was played out before the council Tuesday night. Before debate started on waterfront development, Stardancer Casino Cruises gave the city $7,500 for its water rescue team, to the cheers of Stardancer partisans in the audience.

Later, Paradise attorney Larry Crow, a state representative from Palm Harbor, said the donation gave "at least the appearance of impropriety."

The gamesmanship between the two companies has brought the city code enforcement officer down to the waterfront almost daily for the past week and a half, and Tuesday's moratorium discussion was another avenue for the two competitors.

Crow told council members Tuesday night that they should vote for the moratorium and "not kowtow to the threat of legal action."

"That's paramount to legal blackmail," he said.

Several times during the waterfront development debate, Mayor Eloise Taylor cut off speakers and council members alike, trying to keep them from talking about gambling boats.

Though there was a lot of confusion leading up to the vote, the council by a 4-1 vote approved a study, to be done in 90 days, on what procedures can be put in place to protect the waterfront and guide development. But a 90-day moratorium on building, advocated by the mayor, didn't get much consideration. Taylor was the lone dissenting vote on the study.

Marino warned that no moratorium could open the door to speculators submitting permits for gambling boat developments before the study is done.

"Could I wake up in a week and find another boat in the water?" council member Phyllis Grae asked Marino.

"You could," he replied.

- Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247.

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