ATHENS – The Hellenic Gaming Commission (HGC) is expected to decide which of two American companies bidding for the lucrative license to operate a casino at the planned development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport, with reports one was already ruled out.
The Florida-based Hard Rock’s bid is considered ineligible, media reports have said, which would give the license to the only other bidder, the Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment for a facility deemed critical for the plans to go ahead.
The site has been empty for 19 years, since the opening of a new airport northeast of Greece’s capital and is a mess of weeds, abandoned buildings, and rusting aircraft, sitting still during the 4 ½-year reign of the former ruling anti-business Radical Left SYRIZA.
Greece’s Lamda Development wants to build an 8-billion-euro ($8.89 billion) mix of high-end commercial and residential space, a marina and park on the 494-acre site.
The business newspaper Naftemporiki and other media said the HGC found that Hard Rock’s letter of guarantee fell short by several days of the date cited in the tender that had been repeatedly delayed by bureaucratic setbacks.
Another, also unconfirmed claim, is that Hard Rock did not sufficiently demonstrate its experience in overseeing similar construction projects, said Naftemporiki, but Hard Rock officials have essentially claimed the fix was in to give the project to Mohegan and that its rivals attorneys were aiding the HGC.
Members of the competition committee examined a large cache of documents and affirmations required for the international tender with a decision on the award giving the loser 10 days to appeal, which could set up a messy court case as Hard Rock warned.
The project is a priority of Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis who hoped to get construction started before the end of 2019 after he ousted SYRIZA in July 7 snap elections, the Leftists having stymied the development.
Once the casino decision is made – even calculating an appeal or court challenge – the government reportedly plans to begin making legislative steps to start some construction on the site, beginning with the demolition of structures.
The Hellenikon site hosted the old Athens airport and assorted other facilities, such as air bases, state services and even venues for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, most of which are now also abandoned.
Ironically, the new project would sit across a major street from where private companies have taken over public beaches and are being allowed to operate despite repeated promises by successive governments to open public access, with users now being charged for the beaches use.