Global gaming brands eye Athens for new casino

Let the games begin! The tender process has been launched for a casino license in Athens, with the ultimate goal of creating a “world-class resort casino.”

The Hellenic Gaming Commission said that five companies had lodged an interest, despite reporting a decline in money wagered at the country’s casinos last year. Caesars Entertainment, Hard Rock International, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands and Melco Resorts & Entertainment all have reportedly registered interest in the project, with a 30-year operating license available. 

The Commission said it imagined “a world-class integrated resort casino operation as an important part of the Hellinikon, a project destined to transform the wider area of Athens and improve the lives of millions of residents and visitors of our capital city, enhance the Greek tourism product and become a growth engine for the Greek economy.”

The organization was set to comprise hotels, convention and exhibition facilities, themed attractions, entertainment, casino gaming, shopping, gourmet restaurants, cultural elements and other tourist attractions.

The Gaming Effect

Lamda Development is overseeing the project at the former site of the Ellinikon International Airport, looking to begin construction early next year at an estimated cost of €8 billion. 

Lamda said the project was expected to “substantially contribute to the repositioning of Athens as one of the major world-class tourist destinations as it will provide a significant number of new units as well as thematic tourism venues, [which is] expected to attract at least 1 million new tourists, significantly reduce seasonality and at the same time increase the average stay over and spending of tourists in Athens.” 

The group said investment in the project was expected to contribute to the country’s GDP by 2.4 percent until the development’s completion date, while contributing a total of more than €14 billion in taxes to the Greek State over the same timeframe.

There are currently nine operating casinos across Greece, with two of the three largest operating located in the wider Athens area. The Hellenic Gaming Commission reported patrons wagered €1.58 billion at the country’s gambling establishments last year, down nearly 50 percent from the €3.18 billion reported for 2008. In contrast, wagers made online totaled €5.28 billion. 

Greece was not the only Mediterranean country to look to the gaming sector to drive income, with ground broken on the 500-room City of Dreams Mediterranean casino resort being  being built in Limassol, Cyprus at a total cost of a reported €500 million. 

The consortium that won the lone Cypriot casino license originally included Hard Rock International, but Melco International bought out its U.S.partner last June.

The site, which was expected to open late-2019 or early-2020, was preceded last year by a temporary casino. The development was the first after the Cypriot government reformed its existing gambling regulations to authorize brick-and-mortar casino gambling in 2015. 

Key to the success of the casino developments in the Mediterranean is the growth in Russian visitors to the region, with Limassol so popular it has been nicknamed Limassolgrad. Aiding this is Cyprus' money-for-passports program, which gives a passport—and access to the EU—with a €2-million property investment. The success of resorts such as Hellinikon relies on those visitors staying and playing, rather than viewing the region as just a bolthole. 

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.