A deal forged on June 26 has set the stage for Europe to construct its largest casino resort to date, as the island nation of Cyprus has agreed to terms with a consortium of international and domestic developers.
Plans for the integrated hotel and casino resort call for 500 guest rooms, which combined with the casino and other facilities would encompass over 100,000 square feet of floor space.
The final construction costs are forecasted at 600 million euros (USD$672 million), and according to Yiorgos Lakkotrypis – who serves as Minister of Commerce and Tourism for Cyprus – 4,000 temporary jobs will be added to the local economy during the building phase.
Lakkotrypis stated that another 4,000 permanent jobs would be created once the casino is operational, which is planned for the first half of 2020.
During a signing ceremony held at the island’s largest city of Nicosia, Lakkotrypis delivered a speech which outlined the government’s grand vision for the project:
“This opens the road to realizing one of the largest infrastructure projects that has ever been done in our country.
The project, as has been proposed, foresees the creation of Europe’s only integrated casino resort. The casino resort will among other things include Europe’s largest casino, with 136 gaming tables and 1,200 gaming machines.”
Lakkotrypis also predicted that the casino would attract 300,000 new tourists to the eastern Mediterranean island – which counts tourism as 20 percent of its economy – on an annual basis.
At the time of the signing, the development consortium consisted of Hong Kong-based Melco International Development, American-based Hard Rock International, and a Cypriot firm known as Cyprus Phasouri (Zakaki) Ltd.
However, on the same day the deal was signed, Melco International submitted paperwork to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange which revealed that the company had bought out Hard Rock International. The buyout doubled Melco International’s stake in the Cyprus casino project from 35.37 percent to 70.74 percent, leaving the Chinese casino titan with a firm controlling interest.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Melco International’s president of resorts and entertainment Andy Choy praised the Cypriot government for aligning itself with the established gaming company:
“We understand that gaming is something that you entrust to an operator that has world-class systems in place to ensure that you get the type of economic development that you’re looking for.”
The Cypriot government has extended a 30-year license to Melco International for the purposes of casino construction, but only the first 15 years offer the company exclusivity.
In an interview with the Cyprus Mail one day after the signing ceremony, Lakkotrypis made it clear that the government expected prompt progress on the project:
“The clock on the exclusive license started ticking as of yesterday, so it is in the consortium’s interest to start operations as fast as possible.”
The main casino resort scheduled to open in 2020 will be located in the coastal city of Limassol, but Melco International will assist in opening four smaller “satellite” casinos located in smaller cities over the interim.
These facilities will mark the first time commercial gambling enterprises have been built on the Southern half of Cyprus – a divided island with an independent nation aligned with Greece on the south side, and a Turkish-controlled region in the north.
Choy has stated that the four smaller casinos will be operational by “early next year.”
The casino project was envisioned by Cyprus’ president Nicos Anastasiades in 2013, as the country reeled from a prolonged economic crisis.
Legalizing the casino gambling industry, and taxing the subsequent revenue generated, was one aspect of Anastasiades’ 12-point plan to save the Cypriot economy. Despite vocal objections raised by the Greek Orthodox church, which wields tremendous influence on the Southern side of the island, Anastasiades and his government opened the bidding process to operators in 2015.
The former Melco International / Hard Rock International partnership was awarded with the winning bid in November of last year.