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Economy

Mohegan CEO Says Hellenikon Casino Will Be Big Tourist Magnet

ATHENS – A casino at the 8-billion euro ($9.47 billion) development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport, barely underway, will when finished hike tourism in traffic as much as 10 percent a year.

That was claimed by Mario Kontomerkos, Chief Executive Officer of the Connecticut-based Mohegan Entertainment which won the bid after its chief rival, Hard Rock, was disqualified on a technicality. 

With tourists staying away this year because of travel restrictions and the COVID-19 pandemic, Mohegan is betting they'll return in big enough numbers to pay dividends to the company that has been struggling as people have stayed away from casinos.

Mohegan will also have major competition from a giant casino being built on Cyprus, a 550-million euro ($651.32) gambling colossus by Hong Kong billionaire Lawrence Ho, also stalled during the pandemic.

Kontomerkos said the economic benefits of the development will translate into tens of millions of euros of extra tax and social security revenues per year, along with the vital creation of some 7,000 jobs during the construction and operation of the Inspire Athens complex, said Kathimerini.

He told the Prodexpo 2020 forum that the casino, a joint effort with Greece's GEK Terna, a real estate and construction company, will be cooperating with Greek companies too, including banks, suppliers and law firms.

There's no start date for construction for the 950-million-euro ($1.125 billion) investment as the company is waiting for licenses, which in the past have proved to be a bureaucratic boondoggle tying up even major projects, but with the New Democracy government promising to accelerate the process.

Once that process is completed, the contractor’s formal obligation is to complete the project within three years which means the casino likely won't open until the end of 2024.

Kontomerkos said that special emphasis will be placed on the “Greek footprint” of the complex on a site that was supposed to be the biggest urban park in Europe before Greece's economic crisis drove it toward development instead.

Hellenikon aims to become a popular leisure and entertainment destination for people from all around the world, with restaurants, conference halls, luxurious hotels and cultural events and spur more projects on the so-called Athens Riviera.

It will also be the last of the Big Three projects on Athens' waterfront, beginning with the further renovation of the port of Piraeus by the Chinese company COSCO which operates it, with the $861 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center between them. 

Mohegan was facing major financial difficulties earlier this year, which led Kontomerkos in May to say that, “Mohegan Gaming Entertainment is fully committed to turning Greece into a top destination for entertainment and business conferences in Europe.”

He’s a Greek-American who presented the company’s Inspire Athens plan that shows high-rise towers designed to be like the Caryatids on the Acropolis and soar over the site, the casino a critical part of the project.

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