Jennifer Walters, executive director of the Little River Chamber of Commerce, said the community along the north coast of Horry County will feel the pain of the SunCruz Casino boat closing by the roughly 200 people who are unemployed as a result.
“Any job loss is going to be impactful to the area,” she said Tuesday afternoon, just minutes after she learned that SunCruz had closed its Little River-based operation Monday afternoon.
A message left on the SunCruz telephone line confirmed the shutdown, thanked patrons for their support and directed interested gamblers to the Big M, Little River’s other casino boat.
There was no explanation from the company about the reason for the shutdown, but SunCruz was involved in a two-year lawsuit with Horry County over a $7 per-person fee the boat was to pay the county.
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Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman, said the county and SunCruz had been negotiating a settlement of the debt so it could sell its operation.
The exact amount the casino boat owed the county was never announced publicly, and may not have been determined because the county hadn’t seen any of the boat’s records about the number of passengers it had each night.
At one point in the case, SunCruz general manager Robert Weisberg said SunCruz shouldn’t be subject to the fee because a similar fee was not charged to patrons of internet sweepstakes parlors. But Horry County doesn’t allow sweepstakes businesses, and a judge ruled it made no difference anyway because the SunCruz fee was in the contract between the company and the county.
The fee was imposed in 2011, and the casino operation reportedly owed Horry County about $500,000 when the suit was filed. SunCruz resumed paying the fee, but hadn’t done so for the last month, said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman.
The Big M Casino Cruise pays the same $7 per passenger fee to the county. Officials with Big M could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
SunCruz, established in 2010 according to a county business license, took passengers into international waters to gamble, and Weisberg told The Sun News last year that it employed about 200 people.
One of them Tuesday morning said he heard of the shutdown in a telephone conversation Monday afternoon.
“We hadn’t been doing too well,” said Anthony Floyd, dock porter for SunCruz.
Walters said waterfront restaurants and bars in Little River may lose a little business from the SunCruz shutdown, but she said the boat gave passengers food and beverages, which meant they didn’t regularly stop in local businesses prior to or when leaving a cruise.
She said that employees too would sometimes patronize the waterfront businesses.
She believed that many if not most of the SunCruz employees lived in the Little River area.