A pair of Blacktip Island visitors take a shuttle to the Sub-Dudes underwater casino off the Island’s east coast Wednesday for it’s grand opening. (photo courtesy of Jacques Rougerie Architecte)
Local entrepreneurs are betting their underwater casino, opened Wednesday off Blacktip Island’s east coast, will successfully dodge the Tiperon Island’s strict anti-gambling laws.
“The law clearly states no gambling may take place on Blacktip, or on the seas surrounding it,” said Felicia Skulkin, attorney for the newly-formed Blacktip Island Gaming Association said. “It doesn’t bar gaming under the water, and that’s where the Sub-Dudes Lounge comes in.
“We’re providing a service other business people and the government weren’t able, or wouldn’t take,” Skulkin said. “Sub-Dudes is simply one more place island guests can relax, unwind and blow off some cash . . . I mean, steam.”
The casino is built into the limestone seabed 50 yards offshore.
“It’s a big dome in about 20 feet of water,” financier and Eagle Ray Cove Resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “It’s accessed from shore via a Plexiglas tunnel that lets people watch the sharks and barracudas as they wander down.
“Guests can also access the facility via scuba,” Skerritt said. “Eagle Ray Cove dive boats’ll drop you off, or folks can shore-dive in if they want.”
Critics worry the casino will harm Blacktip long-term.
“Building it underwater is an end-run around a law put in place for good reason,” local resident and retired attorney Frank Maples said. “That casino won’t bring money to Blacktip, it’ll bring money to Rich, period. That’s money that could’ve been sent elsewhere on Blacktip.
“Rich and his cronies only revealed it was a casino at the opening yesterday. That’s textbook consciousness of guilt,” Maples said. “The last thing Blacktip needs is gambling and the organized-crime influence that goes along with it. It’s no secret Vinny Calamari from Tiperon is a big investor in this scheme.”
Local law enforcement questioned the legality of underwater gambling.
“The structure itself may bypass the law, but people coming to Blacktip with the intent to gamble do not,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “The same goes for anyone returning to shore with what will be considered illegally-obtained winnings.”
“There’ve also been rumors of casino staff denying air to non-gamblers and big winners,” Marquette said. “In-water or out, that’s extortion.”
Other officials supported the casino.
“I was shocked, simply shocked when I learned Sub-Dudes was a gambling facility,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “Then Rich Skerritt dropped off that cash for the island’s widows-and-orphans fund, and I realized there was a quite the upside to underwater gaming.
“And I’ve known Vinny Calamari for years. He’s a reputable business investor,” Cobia said. “The only crime organized in all this is people slandering the place and making it sound unsafe.”
Skerritt allayed safety concerns by noting the casino is equipped with multiple hyperbaric options.
“The safety of our guests and their and enjoyment are our prime concerns,” he said. “Sub-Dudes is tricked out with a two-place barometric chamber for folks who let time get away from them. We also have a hyperbaric stretcher to get them to the surface in an emergency.
“Our staff’s well trained and knows denying treatment, or air, to a client is a big no-no,” Skerritt said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of at Sub-Dudes. Come on down. Trust us.”