ATHENS – As expected, the battle for what could be a lucrative license to operate a casino deemed critical to the $8 billion development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport on Athens' coast has come down to two US gambling giants.
Florida's Hard Rock International is squaring off against Connecticut's Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, which is working with Greek contractor GEK Terna, the country's gaming commission said as the tenders were submitted at the Oct. 4 deadline.
The winner, expected to be named by the end of November, said Reuters in a report on the bids, will build a casino of at least 1.2 hectares (2.96 acres,) with at least 120 gaming tables and 1,200 slot machines, as well as a luxury hotel, a conference center and a sports center.
The land area, now a mess of abandoned weeds on crumbling concrete tarmacs, decript buildings and rusting aircraft has sat unused for 18 years, after the opening of the new airport northeast of the capital, and was supposed to be turned into Europe's biggest urban park.
But Greece's now 9 1/2-year-long economic crisis that brought austerity along with 326 billion euros ($357.95 billion) in three international bailouts that expired on Aug. 20, 2018, made successive governments steer toward a commercial development instead.
Hellenikon, which was stymied for 4 1/2 years by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, is being accelerated by the new New Democracy government which ousted its rivals in July 7 snap elections with promises to reboot stalled major projects with the old airport development expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of tourists every year,.
Critics, including those in SYRIZA who didn't want foreign companies in Greece, said the development would damage the environment and the country’s cultural heritage, preferring it to stay abandoned and unused instead.
The project could start construction by the end of the year, the government said, with Greece's Lamda wanting to buy out its partners, China's Fosun and Abu Dhabi's Eagle Hills to transform the 620-hectare (1532.05 acres) for which the casino is deemed essential as a lure. The company will pay 300 million euros ($329.4 million) in a first installment toward a one-billion euro ($1.1 billion) for the development rights. The bids weren't revealed.
Hard Rock’s second-in-command, Edward Tracy, who heads its Asian business, came to the Greek capital to outline his country’s plans to the business newspaper Naftemporiki about the long-delayed project.
He said with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis accelerating the project and promising to get it going by year’s end that he was “very satisfied” with the new government’s business-friendly approach after SYRIZA kept putting up obstacles.
Tracy said there’s now an expectation of lower corporate tax rates, with the timing right for anyone to invest in Greece after New Democracy cut the SYRIZA rate from 29 percent and said it would eventually be cut to 20 percent.
Tracy said that the budget for the proposed Hard Rock casino resort will be valued at one billion euros ($1.09 billion) and would be as spectacular as the group’s unique $1.5 billion venue that will open in Hollywood, Florida this year.