Ten years ago, the severity of the financial crisis and its accompanying recession focused governments’ attention on the need to create jobs, diversify their economies and find new sources of tax revenues. One avenue explored by several jurisdictions was gambling and, in particular, integrated casino resorts. Integrated casino resorts are attractive to governments because they create jobs (both in their construction and operation), attract investment, boost tourism and contribute tax revenues.
The recession did cause some radical rethinks about certain government’s attitudes towards gambling. Not least of these was in Cyprus, which was particularly badly hit by the financial crisis. The Cypriot administration had previously refused to consider legislation introducing land-based casinos with then President Christofias (2008 – 2013) publicly stating, “There will be no casinos in Cyprus while I am the president. Casinos are an expression of corruption and can create a crisis of the system. My party (AKEL- the Communist Party) has struggled for years against any establishment of casinos…”. But in October 2011, the Cypriot government undertook quite a dramatic reversal of policy and announced that it was planning to draw up legislation to create land-based casinos in Cyprus.
After the necessary legislation was passed, Melco International signed the agreement for what will be Europe’s largest casino resort in June 2017, the City of Dreams Mediterranean. A ground-breaking ceremony was held a year later and the resort is due to open in 2021.
Spain was another Mediterranean economy hurt by the crisis and it too looked to integrated casino resorts as a solution. Some of the planned ventures for different parts of Spain would have dwarfed what is being built in Cyprus. But projects like the vast US$ 35 billion Europa Vegas resort have not materialised. One project that is still active is the EUR 2 billion Hard Rock’s Entertainment World Resort near Barcelona. After various hurdles and changes of partner since 2013, it could finally begin construction in mid-2020.
Across Europe several other jurisdictions considered resorts with various degrees of seriousness over the last decade, including Ireland and Hungary. But, as of 2019, the concept of a large-scale integrated casino resort still does not exist in Europe.
In Asia, Macau, of course, has established itself as the centre of integrated casino resorts. Singapore’s two casino resorts opened in 2010. One of their aims was to boost tourism and, in this regard, they have been a success. In 2009 there were 9.7 million visitor arrivals to Singapore. By 2017 this figure had risen to 17.4 million.
But the resorts in both jurisdictions are having to evolve. This is partly because their respective regulators want them to focus more on non-gambling entertainment and partly because competitors are emerging in markets like Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan.
Many of the resorts are banking on increased Chinese tourism to fill their venues and gaming tables. But as both Macau and South Korea have discovered in recent years, the flow of tourists can simply be turned off by the Chinese authorities. It always a risk to rely heavily on Chinese tourists.
For various reasons, it does feel as though European markets have missed the opportunity afforded by integrated casino resorts to boost domestic economies. Cyprus will change this in the next decade and resorts in Spain and Greece might also come to fruition. But they could still be overshadowed by what is developed in Japan and across Asia.