The political fall-out over a potential casino in Israel’s southern port city of Eilat has been heightened with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin saying he wanted to fast track the proposals through and present a blueprint to government later this year.
His plan comes as slot machines were banned throughout the country
Mr Levin is leading a committee charged with evaluating the affect of allowing casinos in Israel. That committee wants to present a memorandum for a bill to set up a hotel-casino area in Eilat within three months.
He said: “This is an essential process. Eilat can’t compete in the world of tourism without at least new hotels. The casino isn’t the goal, it’s the means. The right thing is to remove gambling from places where they are accessible to the population and to move them to one controlled compound.”
Mr. Levin was referring to the removal of hundreds of slot machines, operated in gaming centres by Mifal HaPayis, the national lottery operator.
The Tourism Minister wants these machines banned from everywhere apart four casinos, all with hotel and conference facilities, bringing a total of 4,000 hotel rooms to Eilat. He noted that no new hotels had been opened for over a decade.
The memorandum would identify where the casinos would be, how the license would be structured and how Israeli citizens would be limited from gambling.
Mr Levin claims the casinos would boost tourism to Eilat by 15 per cent whilst creating 11,000 jobs with just an average spend per head of $160. He predicts that most of the gambling would come from tourists.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is keen to ban the slot machines but remains opposed to the casino. He said: “The State of Israel does not need casinos. It needs to provide education, values and jobs – not a casino. Last week we decided to put an end to slot machines and horse races – gambling activities that ruin families. These machines are placed in poor neighbourhoods to sell them illusions and hopes while taking money out of their pockets. Sadly, this has been going on since 2003. It has been talked about for years and we decided to take action; soon we’ll remove them and Mifal HaPayis can scrap them as far as I’m concerned.”
The slot machines are believed to generate a third of Mifal Hapayis’ revenue, equating to US$1.3bn.