Place your bets. Will a casino be built in Eilat?

Tourism Minister Meseznikov, Mayor Yitzhak Halevi consider proposal.

Generic casino 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Generic casino 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov is wagering that a casino in Eilat is just what the city needs to draw foreign tourists to its doors. The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday that Meseznikov is planning to convene a public committee to look into opening a casino in the Red Sea city.
Meseznikov’s spokesman, Amnon Liberman, told the Post that though the idea was still in it’s early stages, the minister was seriously considering the move, using Las Vegas as a model for how to successfully integrate legalized gambling, in a way that will benefit the community and the tourism industry.
Casinos, convention center will attract people to Eilat
“The idea is that the casino or casinos won’t stand alone, but will be developed in tandem with a major convention center to be built in the city. The minister believes that the combination will attract large numbers of people who don’t customarily see Eilat as a viable destination,” Liberman said. “The committee, which will be headed by a retired judge, will look into all the aspects surrounding the initiative, specifically the legal aspects, and report on its conclusions.”
Eli Gonen, president of the Israel Hotel Association, said, “I congratulate the minister on his proposal, which I think will do a great deal of good for the city, which is currently facing stiff competition from its neighbors in Egypt and Jordan. However, I urge the minister not to go down the path of a public committee.”
Gonen, who was director-general of the Tourism Ministry in the late 1990s, said that all the background work had already been done and all the considerations had been analyzed by a similar committee, established in 1995 and headed by businessman Moshe Gavish, who subsequently income tax commissioner and chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
“I want to emphasize that I don’t think that the casino should stand alone, and strongly support the development of the convention center to draw in visitors on the conference circuit. Few people suspect it, but gambling is only the third largest source of income for Las Vegas. Conventions are No. 1 and hotels are No. 2,” Gonen said.
“If done correctly, there is no limit to the number of tourists that casinos and conference halls can draw. If the state figures out how to tax the owners correctly, it can also mean a great contribution to the budget, which can then go to aid citizen welfare.”
'We need to fill the 11,000 hotel rooms in the city'
Ami Etgar, director-general of the Incoming Tour Operators Association, also said it was a vitally important move. He said Eilat was a city in desperate need of re-branding and that if the state wanted to prevent it from falling behind its Jordanian rival, Aqaba, it needed to take swift action.
“We need to find a way to fill the 11,000 hotel rooms in the city. Casinos and convention centers go a great way to do it, but I don’t necessarily think they need to go hand in hand. Each one draws different clientele and that can stand alone just fine,” Etgar said.
Etgar stressed that nobody wanted Eilat to be overrun by heavy gamblers or turned into a gambling capital, but that if done in a measured fashion, the project could bring great prosperity to the city and the country.
Previous proposals to introduce casino to Israel were rejected by both religious and social groups, which opposed it on moral grounds, and feared the negative effects that gambling would introduce into society and the social ills that tend to surround gambling venues.
In Eilat, though, the casino initiative is welcomed. Last year, Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi presented Meseznikov with the city’s strategic economic vision, which along with casinos, included convention centers, a new boardwalk, commercial centers, pavilions, marine sports facilities and luxury hotels.