Vegas casino sweats over bet on Spain

MADRID: American billionaire Sheldon Adelson is hesitating before placing his bet on a Las Vegas-style casino in Spain in the midst of a spiralling eurozone debt crisis.


Even as Madrid and Barcelona vie with each other to lure the Las Vegas Sands chief executive, the lack of financing from banks swamped with bad loans from a 2008 property crash may leave them nothing to fight over.


Adelson’s right-hand man, chief operating officer Michael Leven, conceded as much as he visited this city and Barcelona this week to evaluate the rival sites on offer for a jobs-rich “Eurovegas”.


For political and business leaders it is a tantalising prospect: an investment of up to 15 billion euros ($19 billion) at a time of recession with nearly one-quarter of the workforce unemployed.


They rolled out the red carpet in Barcelona and here.


As Madrid regional president Esperanza Aguirre welcomed Leven on Tuesday, she was surrounded by top executives from Iberia, Banco Santander, textile giant Inditex and builders such as FCC Construction.


World famed chef Ferran Adria weighed in for Barcelona the previous day, promising to collaborate with the project if the northeastern city was chosen for the casino.


Overall, the 10-15 year project would build four complexes with 12 hotels providing 36,000 rooms, nine theatres, three golf courses, and convention centres around the casinos.


Leven said it could create up to 250,000 jobs.


The first, most expensive, phase would build 12,000 rooms, four buidings and the necessary infrastructure for an investment of about 6.8 billion euros. It could provide 150,000 direct, and indirect jobs, he said, recalling that the group had opened similar complexes in Singapore and Macao.


The key, however, is rustling up the stake.


Las Vegas Sands says it would stump up 35 per cent of the funds for this first phase and it would expect an annual return on investment of at least 20 per cent. That leaves 65 per cent of the money to find.


Leven, speaking to reporters here after his tour of the two cities, said the group had held discussions with about 30 banks including some from Spain and he admitted some challenges.


“I think it’s more difficult today because of the international global situation but it’s certainly not impossible,” he added.


“If the project is not able to be financed by the banks, in other words if the world gets worse in the next six or seven months, then of course we would not be able to do the project.”


The other obstacle, he said, would be if politicians did not pass the legislation the casino is requesting, including limited exemptions on anti-money laundering and anti-smoking laws, and a 10-year moratorium on gambling taxes.


Protesters, however, say they fear a Eurovegas would open the doors to prostitution mafia, and they denounced a return to the excesses of the property bubble, which imploded in 2008.


“Mr. Adelson should listen to the people’s opposition before building this aberration, whose only goal is to profit from and deepen the crisis that we are paying for, handing the profits as usual to the elite who got us into it,” says the platform of “Eurovegas No”, which claims to have collected 35,000 signatures.



About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.