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Casino resort idea wins cabinet approval

Artist's impression of a casino complex mooted for the Famagusta area in 2012

By Elias Hazou

THE GOVERNMENT unveiled plans yesterday to grant one licence for an integrated casino resort on the island, as Cyprus scrambles to woo investment to offset a deep recession.

The decision came during a busy day at the Cabinet, which among other things set in motion a new tax amnesty drive and overhauled benefits to asylum seekers.

Speaking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting, government spokesman Christos Stylianides said the entire process – from the call for interest, the bids, right up to the issuing of a casino licence – would be fast-tracked so as to be completed within 12 months.

“The economy needs it…and in order for tourism to grow it urgently needs a casino,” said Stylianides.

A single licence would be granted for a resort casino with specifications of the same standards as those of the big casinos around the world, he added.

“The aim of the government is to have a credible international bids procedure that will attract international investment interest.”

Driving home the sense of urgency, the spokesman noted that the Cabinet considers it “absolutely necessary to retain the services of external advisers with specialised knowledge and experience at all stages of the process, including the final stage of the signing of the casino development license with the successful applicant.”

The tender documents would include a timeline for the start of the casino’s operation.

On the proposed site of the facility, Stylianides said this issue was still being considered by the Cabinet.

Since the new government indicated it was positively inclined toward a casino, local authorities throughout the island have been scrambling to promote their own attractiveness as a potential location, including the Famagusta municipalities and more recently the Nicosia mayor.

Establishing casinos was a pledge of the present conservative government which came to power in February. The previous administration opposed it on ideological grounds, with former President Demetris Christofias famously declaring that there would no licensed casinos under his watch.

Parliament is currently in recess, but when MPs return in September they will be asked to approve legislation to end the ban on casinos.

The island is attempting to diversify its economy after its financial sector all but collapsed in March under conditions of a €10 billion bailout with international lenders.

Beyond creating jobs in construction and then in catering and other services, the project would generate revenue from the gambling tax imposed on the licensee.

There are no casinos in the government-controlled areas, but several in the northern breakaway regime, frequented by many Greek Cypriots.

The Cabinet based its decision on the findings of a study carried out by private-sector consultants and commissioned by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation.

Earlier, sources had told the Mail the government had been leaning toward the creation of a global resort rather than the alternative of multiple casinos.

Boasting a huge bed capacity, an integrated casino resort would offer a number of auxiliary services, including theme parks, restaurants, shops, and malls.

The same sources revealed that the consultants’ study anticipated a massive impact on tourism and a huge increase in arrivals. The project itself is expected to bring in an investment of between €600-800 million.

Casinos may provide a boost, particularly from visitors from Russia and from the Middle East.

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