By George Psyllides
Thirteen operators have expressed interest in Cyprus’ casino project, expected to cost some €500 million, MPs heard on Tuesday.
The government plans were presented to the House Finance and Commerce Committees, which were told that a project of such a scale would need to attract an additional half to one million tourists a year.
Undersecretary to the president Constantinos Petrides emphasised the need for the government bill to remain relatively unchanged.
Petrides warned that certain provisions, “painstakingly and expertly” drafted, should not be altered substantially as this could put the whole project at risk.
“Our objective is not to legalise gambling; our objective is to change our tourist product significantly,” Petrides told MPs.
“It is a very large project with a conservative forecast since there are indications that its value could exceed half a billion by far. Tourism must increase significantly for the casino to be sustainable.”
Petrides said the viability studies will be done by potential investors.
“The government’s aim is to create a favourable environment for the project to be viable,” he said.
The government officials said indications showed there will be interest.
Energy, Trade, and Tourism Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis said the government was already engaged in talks with interested parties and approval of the bill by parliament would raise interest considerably since a legal basis would be put in place.
The government hopes to have the bill approved by the end of the month. A competition to find an investor should be announced three weeks later. The procedure is expected to last eight weeks.
Detailed discussion of the bill is scheduled to start next Tuesday.
The bill provides for a casino of international standards, and a hotel or hotels of international standards exceeding the requirements for a five-star establishment under existing laws with at least 500 luxury rooms, at least 100 gaming tables and at least 1,000 gaming machines.
The operator gets to choose which district the resort would be located in, an avoidance tactic by the government, which has been under pressure from all districts to award them the licence.
The government’s revenues will come from the signing bonus, the annual license, and taxes. Money will also be made from tourism.
The annual licensing fee will be €2.5 million for the first four years and €5.0 million annually for the next four.
The operator will also pay a 15 per cent tax on gross income.