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Casino boat's uncertainty still unclear

Published Oct. 1, 2005

Floating a casino gambling boat down the Crystal River is a legal, legitimate business venture expected to generate at least 100 jobs and pump revenue into the local economy, proponents say.

But to some residents who live near the Crystal River Yacht Club, a gambling boat will be just a neighborhood nuisance. They hope their opposition will convince casino operators that they are not welcome.

"That's probably the only thing we can do," said Hugh Adkins, who lives near the yacht club and plans to bring his objections to the Crystal River City Council meeting Monday.

"We do have a choice in making them feel so uncomfortable that they don't want to operate here."

As neighbors mobilize against the venture, the certainty of a Crystal River casino boat remains unclear. A Port Richey gambling ship operator says it has made an offer to buy the land, the Crystal River mayor says the company has made no such offer, and the property owner won't say either way.

Even if a ship operator doesn't buy the former yacht club, it might lease the dock from a restaurant or other business that might purchase the property.

Tracy Luepkes, a spokeswoman for SunCruz Casino of Port Richey, reaffirmed Thursday that her company has offered to buy the land from property owner Anthony Marino.

Mayor Curtis Rich, who is communicating with a group of restaurant operators also interested in the yacht club property, insists that SunCruz has not made an offer.

In response, Luepkes said: "Maybe Mr. Rich was unaware of it."

Marino would not clear up the discrepancy.

"This is getting ridiculous," he said. "We're getting so many stories in the paper it's ridiculous."

Marino has said he plans to decide who to sell to by April 1, but the date might be flexible. Marino initially said he would decide in mid-February and has moved the date back several times.

Rich has continually discounted newspaper accounts of the transaction. He has said that casino companies are interested only in leasing the property from its owner, not purchasing it.

Other potential buyers include the state Department of Environmental Protection, which hopes to turn the former yacht club building into an manatee education center, and the restaurant investors working with Rich.

Rich said he has received several calls on the issue, including a few irate callers opposed to a casino boat. Other callers have said they would like to see a gambling ship at the former yacht club site.

Crystal River City Council member Kitty Ebert said she "has had more phone calls on this subject than I have had on any subject."

Most of the callers are from Indian Waters-area residents, she said.

"I think it's something that we have to address and let the public know everything we know about it," Ebert said.

The yacht club is accessible only by State Park Road, which winds past the Indian Waters development, where Adkins lives.

He said he has talked to several of his neighbors and plans to knock on more doors in his community before the meeting.

"Everyone is against it that I've talked to," Adkins said. "I haven't found anybody who's for it yet."

Luepkes said the community's reaction to the casino boat industry will be important as the company considers buying the property.

"We hope we're well-received," she said. "If we thought that the majority of people there did not want us, that's not a good position for us."

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