Andorra Casino License Process Mired in Controversy
Bidding for the first-ever land-based casino in the tiny European country of Andorra is mired in controversy. Several world-famous casino companies lost to a local bingo parlor operator, leaving to calls for scrutiny by the rejected applicants.
Andorra is a small landlocked nation in the Pyrennes Mountains between Spain and France. Andorra is a sovereign parliamentary democracy that has two interesting co-princes, the King of France and the Bishop of Urgell (a Roman Catholic priest in the Catalonian County of Urgell).
Andorra is the sixth-smallest country in Europe, but also has the highest life expectancy in the world (81) and the 26th-highest GDP-per-capita in the world. The World Bank stated in 2016 that Andorra is one of the Top 15 richest countries in the world (per capita).
Much of Andorra’s economy comes from tourism, especially due to its ski slopes.
Barriere, Partouched Rejected
Naturally, with tourism as a centerpiece of the economy, placing a casino-resort in the country makes a lot of sense. Bidding attracted a who’s who of European casino operators (Partouche, Barriere, Casinos Austria), along with the Malaysian multinational conglomerate, Genting Group Limited.
With such an illustrious set of applicants, it would have surprised no one to have seen one of the big French companies like Barriere or Partouche win the bidding. Alternately, it would have surprised no onlooker to see Genting win, since its bid was the highest ($164.6 million) and its proposed resort was the biggest (20 stories tall).
CRAJ Chose Local Bingo Hall
Instead, Andorra’s little known gaming regulator, Consell Regulador Andorra del Joc (CRAJ), chose the $17.5 million bid from a local bingo hall, Jocs SA. The development plan from Jocs SA called for a 6-story hotel and casino.
The top bidders believe there was something suspicious about the process. For instance, CRAJ said it did not accept Genting’s bid, because it was uncertain if Genting owned the land on which it planned to build a casino.
Genting Criticism Unfounded
Because it is a conglomerate which owns oil platforms and rubber plantations as well as hotels and casinos, Genting is one of the richest casino companies in the world. It once bought the Miami Herald building on the off-chance the anti-gambling state legislature of Florida might approve a South Florida casino.
Genting owns Resorts World Sentosa, the Singaporean casino which is among the Top 5 most lucrative casinos in the world. Genting also is set to open Resorts World Las Vegas in 2019 – the most expensive casino ever built on the Las Vegas Strip. The idea that Genting might not own the plot of land in Andorra it would build its casino – or could not afford to buy the land – is absurd.
SIQ Consultancy Group Advised CRAJ
That was not the only point of contention. For instance, the Slovenia-based SIQ was the consultancy firm which CRAJ hired to help grade the various applications. SIQ gave Jocs SA special marks for experience in the business, claiming it had 10 years of experience running casinos. That simply does not measure up with facts, because all Jocs SA has managed in those 10 years is a bingo hall.
If that had been the extent of the accusations, the controversy might have stopped there. Then it was pointed out that Francesc Armengol, a onetime games engineer for Novomatic, acted as a consultant for SIQ during the evaluation process.
Then it was pointed out that Novomatic had a deal in place with Jocs SA to provide gaming machines to the bingo hall operator, if the company won the Andorra casino license. The clear implication was Francesc Armengol had favored Jocs SA in the bidding process, because Novomatic stood to gain from that favor.
Francesc Armengol Threatens to Sue
Since, Francesc Armengol has threatened to sue the companies making the allegations. Armengol claimed he had been defamed by the accusations. He noted that he was unaware SIQ was working for Andorra’s regulator at the time he gave his advice, and that he had no direct role in the Andorra selection process.
Francesc Armengol also pointed out that he had not worked for Novomatic since 2014. At the moment, the engineer said he is consulting with lawyers on whether he can sue for the “totally false” claims.
Jocs SA Casino in 2020
At the moment, Jocs SA continues with plans to build its Andorra casino. Not much is known about the name of the resort or other particulars, but Andorra’s first casino is set for a grand opening sometime in 2020.