Greek Casino License Authorized, Gambling Committee to Decide

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 | Written by April Bergman
Greek Casino License Authorized, Gambling Committee to Decide

The government of Greece announced authorization for a casino license for a major development project, which is the next phase of a 2014 attempt to increase tourism to Athens. The Greek government announced it would authorize its gambling committee to gather casino license applications.

The casino development project is expected to be huge, so only the international casino giants are expected to bid on the project. Most sources familiar with the Hellenikon Athens project, which is sometimes called the Elliniko Resort, estimate that the integrated casino-resort will include $8 billion of investments.

The Greek news outlet, Kathimerini, reported that the call for casino license applications should be in either late May or June. Some sources suggest the process will not begin until late June.

When it does, bidding is expected to include several high-dollar groups. Reports suggest that at least three groups are interested: the Chinese conglomerate Fosun, a group of Abu Dhabi and Chinese investors, and the US casino company, Caesars Entertainment, are all rumored to be interested in bidding on the casino license.

Lamba’s 99-Year Lease

The casino licensing process is designed to help Greece generate revenues for the international bailout of its treasury. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial debt crisis, Greece’s government debt crisis of late-2009 and 2010 led to years of austerity measures, tax increases, and battles with the European Union over bailout measures.

In 2018, Greece’s financial outlook is better than it was for much of the decade, but the government needs revenues. The casino license approved in 2014 was for Lamda, a Greek property developer, which signed a 99-year lease to develop 620 hectares of wasteland at the former Hellenikon Athens airport into an integrated resort.

Hellenikon Athens Resort

The Hellenikon Athens project includes plans for multiple hotels, luxury residences, a yachting marina, and a land-based casino. Now that other areas of the project are underway, the Greek government is looking for a casino license holder to begin work on a major land casino.

This time, Greece’s top administrative court approved a new license. A Greek Finance Ministry official told Reuters that an advisor for the tender would be hired soon to oversee the licensing process.

Delays in Building Non-Gaming Resort

The hotel and residential developments have been beset with delays, so the casino project could be a pivotal bell weather for financial analysts. Greece’s creditors have looked at the Hellinikon Athens project as a sign of the country’s commitment to privatize industries.

The Greek gambling industry has suffered from a state-run monopoly over the years, so the casino licensing process could be a major step forward — if officials handle the process correctly. No one in the Greek government has speculated about who the potential license applicants might be. Given Athens’ location as a tourist destination, many international casino operators likely would be interested in an Athens casino.

Greek Casino License Applicants?

Whether the major international casino operators are being considered is another matter. In the past, some governments in Eastern Europe have shied away from foreign developers. Bulgaria and Romania each have banned international casino companies, instead of allowing them to compete. An attempt to bar foreign bids would be a bad sign, because part of the privatization process requires finding foreign investments. Top US, Chinese, and EU casino companies would have the most to invest.

The lingering Greek debt crisis might scare off certain developers. Las Vegas Sands is the richest casino company in the world, because its Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and Venetian Macau in China generate massive amounts of cash. Genting Group, a Malaysian multinational conglomerate, might have more money than any casino company in the world. Besides owning the Resorts World casino brand found in Singapore, Manila, New York City (Queens), Upstate New York, and (soon to be) Las Vegas, Genting also owns oil platforms and banana plantations in Southeast Asia.

Wynn Resorts might normally be expected to bid on a luxury integrated resorts, but the company has been rocked by scandal after multiple allegations forced founder Steve Wynn out of the business. Galaxy Entertainment Group just invested a billion dollars in buying Wynn Resorts stock, while it also is planning a multi-billion dollar resorts on Boracay Island in the Philippines. MGM Resorts, another Las Vegas Strip casino developer, would be a worthy bidder, but it has given no indication of interest. MGM seems to be focusing heavily on the American East Coast these days, as it soon will open the MGM Springfield in Massachusetts, while it is also concentrating on an MGM Bridgeport in Connecticut.

Melco International might be expected to bid, but it won the lone casino license in Cyprus and is expected to build City of Dreams Mediterranean in the coming years.