First casino planned for southern Cyprus

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After being debated for more than a year, legislation has finally passed in Cyprus that will bring the first casino to the Greek-occupied south. The Operations and Casino Control Legislation of 2015 was enacted into law upon its publication in the Official Gazette of the Republic on July 21.

The Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism will initiate a two-stage procedure starting in September to select a single license holder. According to Philippos Katranis, head of the casino coordinating committee, thirteen operators have already expressed interest including gaming heavyweights Las Vegas Sands, Caesars Entertainment and Genting Bhd.

“First, an invitation for an expression of interest will be announced out of which three bidders will emerge who will have to submit a binding bid in the second stage,” explained Tigorgos Lakkotrypis, Minister of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism, adding that investors have “a month and a few days” to study the framework.

Under the law, which passed by a 29-22 vote with approval by DISY, DIKO and EDEK parties while against-votes came from AKEL and Green parties, a sole license will be granted for 30 years with a period of exclusivity for 15 years. It allows development of a large casino resort and four smaller satellite venues throughout the island.

The plan is to build an integrated resort that competes with the best in the world. The main facility requires an investment of at least €500m with a minimum of 1,000 slot machines and 100 gaming tables where electronic table games are classified as gaming tables. The four satellite casinos are each permitted to hold up to 50 slot machines and one of the venues is also able operate up to five tables.

Hotel facilities must exceed the requirements of a five-star hotel as determined by the Hotel and Tourist Accommodation and offer at least 500 guest rooms. Other integrated resort facilities are not prescribed but the Ministry has recommended conference, entertainment, sports, tourist, retail, dining and recreational amenities.

The license holder will pay a gaming duty rate of 15pc on gross gaming revenue. Minimum age of admission to the casino will be 21 years and the resort may operate 24 hours a day, seven days per week. The law also specifies that smoking and alcoholic beverages may be permitted on the gaming floor.

Provisions included as part of the approved bill include a credit ban to players inside a casino and checks on Cypriot players’ tax files before being allowed to gamble at one of the facilities. In addition, government-owned land will not be used to build a casino and the satellite venues must be in different locations from the main resort.

Cypriots wishing to play in one of the casinos would be required to apply for a special permit after their tax file is checked. Obtaining a permit would depend on a person’s annual income and details on the income criteria, as well as how the cards would be issued, will be drafted once parliament reopens after its summer recess.

A National Gaming and Casino Commission will be established to oversee the sector and be responsible for regulation of the law and tax collection. It will promote legal casino gaming in the nation and channel players away from unregulated establishments, as well as protecting consumers, underage and the vulnerable.

Although casinos are widespread in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus, strong political views backed by influence from the Greek Orthodox Church have kept casino gaming banned in the south of Cyprus for the past five decades. The approved measure met with fierce criticism but was propelled by the new government.

The Ministry, which will play a vital role in selecting the licensee, has said that for the casino investment to be commercially successful, it would have to attract at least 500,000 tourists a year. Patrons are expected to fly to Cyprus from countries within a four-hour flight, such as Russia and other European and Gulf countries.