‘A megacasino could let the mafia into Spain’

The government of Madrid says a massive new casino complex known as EuroVegas is the answer to the country's economic woes but not everyone is sold on the idea.

'A megacasino could let the mafia into Spain'
Madrid is pinning its economic hopes on a massive new casino project on the city's outskirts. Photo: Thebarrowboy/Flicr

There's a real buzz at the local office of the Popular Party (PP) in Parla.

Parla, on the outskirts of Madrid, is just a 20-minute drive from where Sheldon Adelson, the charismatic CEO of US firm Las Vegas Sands (LVSC), plans to build a huge entertainment and casino complex known as EuroVegas.

The entire project has a budget of €18 billion. When finished, it will comprise 36,000 rooms, three golf courses and 17 theatres.

The first phase alone — due for completion in 2017 — will cost €9.8 billion, and have 3,000 hotel rooms as well as casino facilities.

"We're already collecting people's CVs to give to the developers," the PP press spokesman in Parla, Miguel Ángel López, told The Local.

"This area has been particularly hard hit by the crisis and 10,000 new jobs will be created in the first phase alone."

Jesús Sainz, president of PromoMadrid, which promotes investment in the Spanish capital, is also excited about the LVSC project.

He told Bloomberg recently that EuroVegas could attract as many as 4.7 million new tourists a year.

He added these tourists would also spend €15.35 billion ($20 billion) in the project's first 10 to 15 years.

Meanwhile, the government of Community of Madrid is also talking up "the largest entertainment complex in Europe".

It says the casino will eventually account for 4.5 percent of Madrid's gross domestic product and 0.7% of the country's entire GDP — figures from research carried out by Boston Consulting Group.

In a recent press conference about EuroVegas, the president of the community of Madrid Ignacio González said his government  expected the casino to create "thousands of jobs".

He also said the LVSC project had already attracted other projects to the area where EuroVegas will be built, including a logistics centre for online retailer Amazon and a new Roche pharmaceuticals plant.

González specifically linked EuroVegas with the prosperity of Madrid, saying the money from the casino would go to schools, to the healthcare system and to social services.

Back in Parla, Lopez told The Local: "We're going to collect all the résumés together and classify them into different work types."

The PP are not, however, in power in Parla. The ruling party is actually the socialist PSOE. And they are opposed to the casino plans.

López told El Pais recently that he was amazed the local PSOE was against the project, given that the region had 16,000 unemployed people. 

He said the socialists should be making the most of the possible work opportunities and helping local families. 

But Parla's town hall responded by telling El País that EuroVegas was "all talk". The local council's vice secretary María José López Bandera also said the project was "populist" and "propagandist".

And the PSOE of Parla are far from the only ones opposing the huge casino complex.

The Catalan Greens (ICV) opposed the original plan of LVSC to build the casino in a protected zone near Barcelona on environmental grounds. They said the area was not suitable for large-scale development.

But the environmental party also distrusted the project because of the development model it represented.

"This project reproduces the type of development that led Spain into the crisis," Jaume Bosch, the ICV mayor of San Baudilio de Llobregat told The Local.

"We are talking about real estate speculation linked to gambling, which is not the right model of development for this country.

"At the same time, there are social questions associated with gambling, and the issue of young people entering casinos, not to mention the issue of smoking being allowed in these places." 

Meanwhile, the activist group Plataforma EuroVegas No (PEN) state they are against the LVSC casino and entertainment complex because "it is a mega-development with the status of a state-within-a-state in which tax, labour and environmental regulations are disregarded."

PEN also says on its website that EuroVegas risks "opening the door to mafias linked to the trafficking of women and girls" and could lead to "money-laundering" activities.

The lobby group recently approached Spain's Public Defender's Office after it had 12 public information requests about EuroVegas turned down by Madrid's government.

In response, the Public Defender's Office said the project was of "exceptional public interest" and the Madrid authorities needed to be transparent in terms of the information they provided.

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