The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic has removed the minibars from its hotel rooms as it tries to ease fears over a recent spate of deaths in the country that some speculate could be related to bootleg booze.

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The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana is facing a PR nightmare over deaths at resorts in the Dominican Republic that officials say are not statistically unusual for a country that welcomes six million tourists each year. (Image: Hard Rock Punta Cana)

Ten US tourists have died at resorts in the Caribbean nation since June — two at the Hard Rock. Relatives have reported similarly mysterious symptoms, including fever, diarrhea, pulmonary edema, bleeding, and vomiting blood, leading to one theory that alcoholic drinks at the resorts might have been adulterated with methanol.

Some of the deceased were reported to have taken a drink from their minibar shortly before becoming ill, including one at the Hard Rock, which is a franchised property within the portfolio of Hard Rock International, a company owned by the Seminole Native American tribe of Florida.

This is not a theory the Hard Rock subscribes to, however. The resort’s General manager Erica Lopez said in an official statement Friday management had made the decision to remove the minibars based on “guest feedback” and to “provide more tranquillity for guests.” She reiterated the line being taken by the country’s tourism ministry that the deaths at the resort and others were unrelated, coincidental, and attributable to natural causes.

The safety and health of our guests is now, and has always been, our highest priority,” she added.

Minibars in the Dominican Republic are unlike like the small fridges stocked with miniature bottles found in the US and many other countries. Instead, they are more like the optics found in bars, dispensing measures of vodka, rum, tequila and whisky from large bottles hanging upside down in a cabinet.

Changes Reported at Hard Rock

A guest currently staying at the property told CNN there had been changes at the Hard Rock since the last time she visited. Tracy Weber from New Jersey said all the food-service employees are wearing face masks, while guests are given hand sanitizer as they enter restaurants. According to Weber, the hotel has also replaced the buffet with a restaurant and installed security cameras everywhere.

She said no one in her party had got sick and described the hotel as “incredible.”

But on Friday the State Department confirmed another fatality at a different resort. Vittorio Caruso from Glen Cove, New York, died at the Boca Chico resort on June 17. He was  “brought by ambulance to the hospital in respiratory distress after drinking something,” his sister told Fox News. The autopsy is pending.

Damage to Casino Tourism

The Dominican Republic has around 60 casinos, some 80 percent of which are linked to its huge, all-inclusive tourist resorts. But it is struggling with a public-relations crisis over a death count that it insists is not statistically unusual for a country that welcomes well over two million US tourists per year and six million in total.

Whether or not the deaths are unrelated and overblown in the press — as tourism officials contest — people have begun cancelling their trips.

“We plan to visit Hard Rock in August with two grandchildren and after sad news we don’t know if we should go,” a Casino.org reader told us last week.

One couple told CBS Chicago they had cancelled their dream wedding in the Dominican Republic due to concerns about the safety situation, writing off thousands of dollars.

“We are a model for global tourism,” the tourism board said at a Friday press conference. “Here we are talking about nine people, but there are countries in the area where 10 times the number of Americans have died there. But all eyes are on us.”

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The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic has removed the minibars from its hotel rooms as it tries to ease fears over a recent spate of deaths in the country that some speculate could be related to bootleg booze. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino...