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Gambling waits for ship to come in

Without its casino boat since Jan. 1, Paradise of Port Richey says it may take three months to find a new one that is just the right size.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 15, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Half a year has passed since the SunCruz gambling operation shut down and it could be months before a replacement boat arrives, officials said Thursday.

Paradise of Port Richey, which leased the boat from SunCruz Casinos until shortly after it came under new ownership, has been unable to find a new vessel that can be equipped with gaming equipment and will fit the limited space in the former Cross-Florida Barge Canal.

"You are very constrained," said Paradise attorney Larry Crow, whose search for a new boat has taken him as far away as Australia. "It's not like going to Wal-Mart and buying a pair of shoes."

Gambling stopped Dec. 26 and the boat was removed Jan. 1. Paradise spokesman Bryan Gilchrist said the company that acquired the vessel, JAB America Inc., would not offer a lease longer than nine days and doubled the rates.

"We just told them go ahead and take the boat," Gilchrist said.

Paradise's problems are compounded by a legal battle with the new owners of SunCruz. The federal lawsuit deals in part with the control of the SunCruz name. Paradise says it has spent millions developing brand identity.

"We believe we have done the exact same thing," SunCruz LLC spokesman Joe Weber said, adding that the company, which is controlled by the same people who run JAB America, operates 10 other SunCruz gambling boats in the southeast.

SunCruz LLC said this week that it will likely file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the face of numerous lawsuits filed after the sale in September of SunCruz by Gus Boulis, who was shot to death Feb. 6 in Fort Lauderdale.

Adam Kidan, owner of SunCruz LLC, told the Associated Press that he is forced to seek the protection because allegations of mob ties and fraud made it nearly impossible for him to run the company.

Paradise is owned by Boulis' estate and Pasco residents Mollie and Alex Kolokithas. The company, which currently operates one casino boat in Port Richey, is in no financial trouble, Gilchrist said.

About 125 people lost their jobs after the SunCruz Crystal River operation was shut down, Gilchrist said. Some employees were offered jobs in Port Richey.

The boat sailed into international waters, where gambling is allowed, seven days per week, serving about 500 passengers a day from October to May.

Gilchrist estimated it would be three months before the new boat arrives in Crystal River. He said the ship would be faster; the old one took about 2 1/2 hours to travel 12 miles into international waters.

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