By Peter Stevenson
THE MAYORS of Cyprus’ five main districts are gearing up to battle the government’s decision to create only one casino resort on the island, saying they all want one and will not take a refusal lying down.
In July, the cabinet announced it would be granting a licence for an integrated casino resort rather than hand out several licences for smaller operations.
It based its findings on a study carried out by private-sector consultants and commissioned by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation. Currently, there are no legally operated casinos in Cyprus, but 24 exist in the northern breakaway state, which are often used by many Greek Cypriots.
The government said that the bureaucracy and red tape associated with the casino resort would be fast tracked to ensure it is conclusion within a year. Parliament is currently in recess, but when MPs return in this month, they will be asked to approve legislation to end the ban on casinos. Then the real battle with start if early comments from the mayors are anything to go by.
Even Constantinos Yiorkadjis, the mayor of Nicosia – which would likely be the last place the cabinet would choose for a casino resort – is joining the fray.
Yiorkadjis said he believes there should be a number of licences which would be strategically placed to bring in the different kinds of visitors that Cyprus attracts.
“I believe we would be better served by investing in smaller scale casinos which are more viable like purpose built and resort casinos,” he told the Sunday Mail.
Yiorkadjis said the Famagusta district could have a theme park style casino to attract mass tourism.
“In Larnaca a hotel-casino could be built in the old airport, in Limassol bearing in mind the town’s population, the visitors and the new marina, a casino could be created with luxury services while in Paphos a casino could be linked to the many golf courses in the area,” he said.
If Nicosia is given the only permit, Yiorkadjis said the casino would have to be in the form of a hotel-casino. “The casino would need to be directed at serving short-stay visitors that are attracted to the capital, which is the business centre of Cyprus,” he said.
The mayor said he believes a casino would need to support the already existing businesses and economy of Nicosia but also be environmentally friendly.
“Any possible casino would need to substantially contribute to reviving the centre of Nicosia but also be able to ensure its sustainability,” the mayor concluded.
Limassol Mayor Andreas Christou said he also believes all of the districts should be given the opportunity to have a casino.
“All the towns have their strengths and can attract different types of visitors so it would fair to give licences to all of the districts,” he said.
The mayor said that casinos would not only bring tourists to the island but would also attract a large number of locals who have a fascination with them.
“Limassol has all the required infrastructure and attractions needed to sustain a casino,” Christou said, adding “It has a large local population, it draws in big business and rich businessmen and it is a destination and place of residence for many Russians who love casinos”.
The mayor also pointed out that Limassol had recently opened a brand new marina which would attract the social elite. The town is also situated close to the British Bases in Episkopi and Akrotiri which would draw British residents, Christou said.
“The municipality is currently preparing a study on the creation of casinos along with other departments related to tourism which we hope will point out the special advantages Limassol has as a possible location for a casino,” he said.
Christou concluded that he feels every district should be able to share in the benefits of having a casino and it should not only be reserved for one area.
The decision to build only one casino will emphasise the competitiveness between the districts on the island as opposed to helping them cooperate with each other, according to Larnaca Mayor Andreas Louroudjiatis.
“Cyprus is a small place and we shouldn’t be put in a position where the different municipalities are having to compete with each other. That said, Larnaca has certain advantages over the other towns,” he said.
The decision on who will choose the location for the casino has yet to be revealed and Louroudjiatis said he feels this does not help the process.
“Larnaca is one of the main entrances to Cyprus and it is a natural position for a casino with both the port and airport in close proximity,” he said.
The creation of a casino resort, the mayor said, will logically bring in more tourism than locals and could rejuvenate Larnaca’s tourist industry.
“No new hotels have been built in the town for the last 20 years unlike some of the other towns, so a casino resort would not take business away from the already existing hotels in the area and possibly damage local tourism,” Louroudjiatis said.
The mayor said he believes Larnaca has an ideal geographical location, being close to all the other towns on the island. He said that possible sites could include the old airport, possibly developing the marina or in a brand new area altogether.
“I have planned an initiative to get in touch with the other mayors to see if we can cooperate in this project. Instead of becoming opponents we can work together to help the people of Cyprus,” he concluded.
Despite numerous phone calls and messages the Mail was unable to get in touch with Paphos Mayor Savvas Vergas. But in early August Vergas said that he believes a fairer decision would have been to give each district a licence for a casino.
“We don’t agree with the government’s decision and we insist they implement a study done by the CTO which would give each district a licence to open a casino which is much fairer,” he said.
Speaking following a town council meeting Vergas said that the location which is finally chosen would end up being fully developed, which could cause more economic problems for other areas as they would lose out substantially.
“We will protest the decision to only licence one casino and we will take our complaints to the president and the relevant minister,” he added.
Paralimni Mayer Theodoros Pyrillis threw down the gauntlet to the other municipalities and stated that Paralimni needed a casino more than any of the other towns.
“We challenge the other municipalities to carry out a survey to see which town deserves to have a casino or not. We deserve it and we will get a casino licence, whether it’s a single licence or one for each municipality,” he said.
Pyrillis said that a town which brings in 40 per cent of the island’s tourism and has businesses operating in the area worth billions would be the perfect location and it would really help improve winter tourism as well.
“A close look needs to be taken as to how other countries go about deciding where to situate a casino and the procedures taken to make that decision,” he said.
The mayor added that he feels a decision needs to made based on the facts and not based on who has more pull with the President or his ministers.
“Only by being transparent can Cyprus finally move forward,” Pyrilles said.
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.
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.
Boasting a huge bed capacity, an integrated casino resort would also offer a number of auxiliary services, including theme parks, restaurants, shops, and malls. The project itself is expected to bring in an investment of between €600-800 million, half a million new tourists, and create over 3,000 new jobs.