Las Vegas Sands Mulls Athens Gamble

ATHENS – With the Greek government scrapping plans to make the abandoned Hellenikon international airport site on the city’s southern coast the biggest park in Europe in favor of developing the land for commercial use, Las Vegas Sands Corporation owner Sheldon Adelson is eying the parcel for a giant casino.

Adelson has turned to a number of cities, including Rome, Madrin, Barcelona, Milan and Paris for likely casinos as the world’s biggest gambling company owner spreads his dominance and told the Bloomberg news agency that the Athens site makes sense. A new Metro stop has just opened outside the back door to the plot that has been abandoned more than a decade.

This is the second time he has gambled on putting a casino there, the first in 2007 but it went nowhere as successive Greek governments have let the lucrative area sit and fester.

Pressure from international lenders to privatize has given new impetus for the site to be turned into something, especially after the government of Qatar gave up on it.

A special plan for Hellinikon’s development recently handed to interested investors provides for the creation of a casino. The question of whether a casino will finally operate on the plot will be answered in another tender that the state will conduct at a later stage, after the completion of the concession process, similar to plans for the privatization of the Astir Palace hotel at Vouliagmeni, southern Athens.

There are skeptics about whether a casino could work at Hellenikon especially because the government recently sold off much of its stake in the state gambling monopoly OPAP to a Greek-Czech consortium and with the agency holding a 565-million-euro ($772.72) license to operate video lotto terminals (VLTs) and its agents have to adhere to terms and conditions such as player limits and identity cards by law.

Those terms don’t apply to casinos which could siphon off customers from OPAP, upsetting the new owners. A new gambling operation could also cut further into the already-troubled Loutraki casino which has a permit that has a condition that no other would operate in Athens, although it was said that Loutraki’s owners would waive it if the tax on casinos was cut from 33 to 20 percent.

Las Vegas Sands usually doesn’t get into bidding procedures when it wants a license, preferring to negotiate directly with governments, as did Qatar, which withdrew partially because it also didn’t want to compete with others in a lengthy procedure.