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Casino boat to dock in Tarpon

After toying with several plans to lease dock space here, owners of the SunCruz IX casino ship say they are buying it a permanent home: Sail Harbor Marina.

"This is it," said Molly Kolokithas, who owns Paradise of Port Richey Inc. with her husband. The company has signed a contract to buy the 48-slip marina on the Anclote River for at least $2-million. Paradise expects to close on the property in late May.

Neither Kolokithas nor the sellers, Barry and Dottie LaLonde, would name the exact price. The couple was asking $2-million for the business, Dottie LaLonde said, and "We would not have sold it for any less."

The transaction raised concerns among city officials and residents who live on their boats at the marina.

The casino boat's new dock will be within sight of the 30-foot section of concrete dock that the boat crashed into and destroyed March 8 at Port Tarpon Marina. The boat was trying to dock during high winds when its rudder froze. SunCruz IX sailed from that berth for a few weeks before the accident and has not sailed from the city since.

The company also operates two ships out of Port Richey and is negotiating for dock sites in Citrus County. The boats have slot machines and card and dice tables. They take patrons into international waters, where gambling is unregulated.

Kolokithas said the Sail Harbor dock would be safer for the large boat because its deep pilings are stronger.

"This is a wooden dock," she said. "I don't know much about marine, but it will support more than a concrete dock."

The city has accused the company of operating the boat from other Anclote River locations without required licenses and permits from the city. The city sued, asking a judge to order the boat not to sail. The suit is pending.

A crew removed bow pilings from nine slips at Sail Harbor on Thursday to make room for the 100-foot ship to moor parallel to the dock. The workers dropped the pilings into a cove nearby, where Dottie LaLonde said they were being stored in case they were needed later.

Dave Bethany, who moors his sailboat at Anclote Harbor Marina next door, said manatees often use the cove as a haven.

City Planning and Zoning Director Walter Fufidio said he asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday to verify whether the work conformed with environmental regulations.

The Florida Marine Patrol plans to investigate the work being done, Officer C.W. Jackson of the Tampa District office said Thursday.

Until now, the marina has contained mostly sailboats. Nine boats had to move to other slips or leave the marina to make room for the casino ship. Kolokithas said the company will continue to rent the remaining slips to help offset the cost of the property.

Many who live aboard their boats in the marina said they are afraid the large ship and the hundreds of gamblers boarding and leaving the ship will disrupt the tranquil setting they are used to.

But they said there is no other marina in the city that allows people to live aboard their boats, so they may have to learn to adjust.

"I was in tears," Joanne Carney said, describing how residents were given two days' notice Wednesday night to move their boats from the slips the new boat will use.