A number of major operators are reported to be interested in the licence to develop a casino as part of the €8bn Hellinikon project in Athens.
Five major gaming operators have expressed interest in the casino licence at the former site of the Ellinikon International Airport in Athens following pre-tender consultations with potential investors by the national regulator.
The Hellenic Gaming Commission (HGC) has scheduled a series of meetings with representatives for US companies Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands, Hard Rock Entertainment and Hong Kong-listed Melco Resorts and Entertainment.
The meetings will brief potential investors on the terms and demands of the tender and allow them the opportunity to inform the Commission on their requests.
In a statement the HGC said it envisaged “a world-class integrated resort casino operation as an important part of the Hellinikon, a project destined to transform the wider area of Athens and improve the lives of millions of residents and visitors of our capital city, enhance the Greek tourism product and become a growth engine for the Greek economy.”
Both Hard Rock and Melco are already involved in mega-resort projects in Spain and Cyprus, respectively, leading local newspaper I Kathimerini to suggest they may eventually pass on Hellinikon project’s expected €1bn investment commitment.
In 2014, a consortium led by Lamda Development, the country’s main private property developer, in partnership with China’s Fosun Group – which owns 12 percent of British holiday company Thomas Cook – and Abu Dhabi-based developer Eagle Hills Properties acquired a 99-year lease to develop part of the abandoned airport in a €915m deal.
Going ahead with the long-delayed €8bn Hellinikon project was a precondition for Greece receiving the final portion of its eight-year €289bn financial bailout by the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank.
Lamda said the project was expected to “substantially contribute to the repositioning of Athens as one of the major world-class tourist destinations as it will provide a significant number of new units as well as thematic tourism venues, [which is] expected to attract at least one million new tourists, significantly reduce seasonality and at the same time increase the average stay over and spending of tourists in Athens.”
Back in June, the government reaffirmed its commitment to moving forward with the project after the end of the bailout programme this August, following pressure from its creditors.
It is projected that the resort development will create 70,000 jobs and will generate over €10m in 25 years, boosting Greece’s GDP by 2.4 percent.
However, casino revenue in Greece has declined substantially in the last decade. The total amount of money spent by players in the country’s casinos last year came to €1.58bn, almost half of the €3.18bn generated in 2008, according to data from the HGC.
Despite this negative panorama, tourism to Greece continues to increase year on year. Tourist numbers have increased by an additional two million every year for the past three years, while arrivals from China alone have doubled since 2017.
“Chinese tourists in Greece during 2017 will exceeded 170,000, increasing by 10-15 percent compared to last year. Since 2010 the number of visas issued in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou has grown six fold,” explained Warwick Bartlett, CEO and founder of Global Betting and Gaming Consultancy (GBGC).
At least one in five Greeks work in tourism, and it remains the nation’s biggest foreign currency earner, generating nearly a quarter of its output.
In recent years, Greek officials have worked to diversify the country’s tourism industry, extending the season into the winter and spring, and targeting Asia, with bookings from China ballooning after direct flights between Athens and Beijing were launched last September.
“The gradual increase of the number of flights from China by the end of this year and the new profile of Piraeus as a home port for cruise liners are highlighted among the factors which can help further increase the number of Chinese visitors to Greece up to 1.5 million annually within the next five years,” Bartlett continued.
“Piraeus is close to the proposed IR, and while most cruise liners these days have a casino facility on board, nevertheless I would expect Chinese gamblers to try their luck at a new casino.”