Big-time gambling is about to come to this Idaho-sized Caribbean nation of about 740,000 people.

That’s the word from Manzoor Nadir, 49, Guyana’s minister of tourism, industry and commerce, who mentioned it at a briefing here in the nation’s capital.

He said this English-speaking nation would have its “first casino within three years and a 320-room hotel close by the Pegasus Hotel. The contract was signed a few weeks ago. It’s a significant investment.”

He added that China’s government was building a new convention center and a new cricket stadium just east of the city and that Canadian investors were building a 150-room hotel “a stone’s throw” from the convention center.

Nadir wouldn’t name the investors or amount of investment in the new casino and hotel – it’ll be the country’s first casino and by far the biggest hotel. But he said they were New Yorkers who did work at Kennedy Airport and had a good reputation in construction.

Pascal Mongeau, general manager of the Meridien chain’s 132-room Pegasus Hotel, confirmed that a New York contracting-engineering firm would be building the new casino and hotel on a site just west of the Pegasus, where the Caribbean Sea and the Demarara River join. Mongeau, a Canadian who’s been managing the Pegasus just over seven months, added that the worldwide Meridien chain was negotiating to run the new hotel.

Nadir, at his briefing, also said the international airport 26 miles outside Georgetown was being expanded, with the road improved to cut travel time to the airport to 45 minutes. He added that Guyana, in its search for tourists, also was pushing for more yachts and small cruise ships.

For years Guyana has been trying to promote what it calls “eco-tourism,” meaning the natural wonders in the huge tropical forest that covers most of this 83,000-square-mile nation. This includes Kaieteur, at 741 feet the world’s largest single-drop waterfall, and hiking paths laden with parrots, butterflies and geckos (lizards) in jungles at overnight stops on the Essequibo River and other waterways.

But nothing has really worked. Though the Guyanese government has been pushing tourism more than 15 years the airport has only about 125,000 arrivals yearly, according to Nadir, and of those “only about 5,000 are first-time visitors.”

One reason for this is Guyana’s excellent education system. Schooling is compulsory through age 15, and 98.8 percent of the population is literate. Many young Guyanese go on to Guyana University or colleges outside the country, get higher degrees and migrate to other English-speaking nations or islands.

Nadir said there were 200,000 Guyanese in Canada alone, which is why Universal Airlines and Air Canada are expanding or starting flights here from Canada. The Guyanese like to come home to see family.

Current population estimates of Guyana vary from 706,000 to 765,000, but no one denies that there’s been a Guyanese “diaspora” in the last 30 to 40 years.

Most Guyanese live on a narrow stretch of Caribbean coast, the only exception being many of the nation’s 60,000 Amerindians. Georgetown has close to 250,000 people and is the nation’s only real city.

The Pegasus, opened in 1982 and taken over by Meridien shortly before the turn of the century, is the country’s largest hotel. There are smaller hotels – guest houses might be a more appropriate word – but there are fewer than 600 hotel rooms in all Guyana.

This could change with the opening of a major casino-hotel operation.

English-speaking Trinidad and well-to-do Barbados are nearby and some U.S. and Canadian citizens might be interested in exploring a new country. Manzoor Nadir is hopeful.


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