Cyprus signs deal to build 'Europe's largest casino'

By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Markets Associated Press

Cyprus signed a deal Monday for the construction of what officials say will be Europe's biggest casino.

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The small Mediterranean island nation's government backed proposals from a consortium made up of Hong Kong-based Melco International, the U.S.'s Hard Rock and local firm CNS Group to build the casino resort in the coastal town of Limassol.

The proposed casino will include 136 gambling tables and 1,200 gambling machines, while the adjoining luxury hotel will have a 500-room capacity, a health spa and 1,500-seat concert hall.

According to Cyprus' Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, the resort will cost more than 500 million euros ($558 million) to build and will create around 4,000 new jobs during construction. He said another 4,000 jobs will be created once the resort is up and running.

Lakkotrypis predicted that the project will attract around 300,000 additional tourists to the east Mediterranean island annually.

"The project as has been proposed foresees the creation of Europe's only integrated casino resort," Lakotryppis said at a signing ceremony. "The casino resort will among other things include Europe's largest casino."

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Cyprus' President Nicos Anastasiades hailed the project as the island's largest ever tourism-related investment that will attract year-round holidaymakers and help roll back unemployment.

Andy Choy, president of Melco's resorts and entertainment division, told The Associated Press that the resort should be built by the first half of 2020.

An interim casino in Limassol and four smaller casinos in Cyprus' other cities will start operating early next year, said Choy.

"We understand that gaming is something that you entrust to an operator that has world-class systems in place to ensure that you get the type of economic development that you're looking for," said Choy.

Choy added that the consortium's priority will be to keep in check the project's social and environmental impact.

Cyprus tourism officials expect to reach another record number of tourist arrivals this year after a record-setting 2016 which saw almost 3.2 million holidaymakers arriving on the island.

Tourism makes up more than 20 percent of Cyprus' economy.