ATHENS – Hard Rock said it won’t accept a decision to reject its bid for a casino license at the long-stalled 8-billion-euro ($8.92 billion) development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport, setting the stage for what could be a legal challenge further stalling the project Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said would be a landmark for him.
The Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment is the last bidder remaining after Hard Rock Cafe’s offer was rejected for technical reasons, which could bring a lengthy court challenge at the same time the New Democracy government said construction on the site would begin anyway.
A source who wasn’t identified told the news agency Reuters that Hard Rock submitted documents that failed to meet the tender’s criteria for financing of the project and required construction experience.
Once the bidders are officially notified of the decision, they have the right to appeal within 10 days and then technical offers will follow, although Hard Rock officials earlier said they would challenge if rejected and said the Hellenic Gaming Commission (HGC) was allowing undue interference from its competitor in the process.
The two U.S. groups made their bids in October, 2019 for construction and 30-year operation of the casino resort, with Mohegan teaming up with Greek construction company GEK TERNA for the project, considered a key element to the development.
The winner of the tender will build a casino on a site of at least 1.2 hectares (2.96 acres), with a minimum of 120 gaming tables and 1,200 slot machines. There will also be a luxury hotel, entertainment venues, a conference center, marina, sport center and park.
Hard Rock Authorized Advisor Michael Karloutsos told The National Herald that, “It is absolutely laughable to think that Hard Rock does not have the financial capacity and construction capability to complete the project at Hellenikon. If this report is true, I would suggest the Committee and Commission must be confused because it is clear they are referring to our competition."
Karloutsos noted the company won’t accept the decision. “Hard Rock has said repeatedly that it will take this process 'to the end,'" including legal action, which could tie up the project.
He said Hard Rock is a global brand that has more than $2.2 billion in projects in the last three months alone and claimed that Mohegan is under financial duress because of growing competition in the industry and not nearly as involved internationally, operating on behalf of other owners in smaller markets and whose hapless effort to open an integrated resort casino in South Korea has been less than Inspiring – 'Inspire' being the theme of its Hellenikon campaign and the name of the proposed Korea venue.
He was also upset at what he said were leaks in the press “that have undermined this process from before the beginning,” suggesting the tender was tilted in favor of Mohegan.
“Even our supposed disqualification was leaked to the press prior to Hard Rock receiving official notification from the Government ... we don’t even know if it’s true. These leaks have done an incredible injustice to the Greek people,” he said.
He said Hard Rock, with operations in 75 countries, owns the most profitable single casino in the western hemisphere outside of Las Vegas and “didn’t just show up in Greece two years ago. It’s been on the ground here in Athens for decades and most importantly in the height of the economic crisis.
“When no one would invest in Greece and Greek companies themselves were fleeing Greece for safer surroundings Hard Rock bought out its franchise and invested millions of dollars in relocating its cafe to Monastiraki … that’s the type of company we need at Hellenikon and that is the type of partner Greece needs to invest in its future.
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 also aiding the HGC.