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Hilton closes Puerto Rico hotel casino amid economic crisis

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The Condado Plaza Hilton in Puerto Rico closed its casino Wednesday after 40 years of operation in another blow to the U.S. territory’s struggling economy.

Managing director Raul Bustamente told The Associated Press that 144 workers were laid off from the casino in the popular tourist district of Condado. He said the closure comes after a 40 percent drop in the use of slot machines over the past decade.

The former 24-hour casino, which opened in 1975, will likely be turned into a ballroom, he said.

“We now want to focus on areas where we’ve had good business: rooms and banquets,” Bustamante said.

Puerto Rico’s Hotel & Tourism Association said it is the seventh casino to close in the past five years on the island, which is entering its ninth year of recession and is struggling with a 12.6 percent unemployment rate.

“The closure of this casino will affect revenues used to promote Puerto Rico as a tourist destination,” association President Miguel Vega said in a statement.

Government officials have said previous casino closures caused a $6 million drop in revenue.

Critics in part blame the closures on an estimated 45,000 illegal gambling machines that operate across the island, with the government seizing hundreds of machines in occasional raids.

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