Athens It is still the dreaiest corner of the Greek capital: the site of the former Athens Airport Ellinikon. No plane has landed here for almost 18 years, but the rusty signs are still there: “Domestic Arrivals”, “International Departures”. The terminals are falling into disrepair. On the runway, bushes sprout from the cracks in the concrete. A jumbo jet from the long-liquidated Olympic Airways is rotting on the apron.
But now something is finally moving. The cards are remixed. Last week, the Greek State Gaming Commission put out a tender to award a casino license. The casino complex on the site of the former airport, as a so-called integrated casino resort, will include a casino with at least 120 tables and 1200 machines on an area of up to 15,000 square meters, a five-star hotel with 2000 beds and a conference center of 12,000 square meters , Luxury boutiques and a show theater – Little Las Vegas in Athens.
Correspondingly top-class are the potential tenderers who, according to Greek media reports, are said to have expressed interest in advance, including the casino groups Caesars Entertainment, Hard Rock International and Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment from the USA, the Genting Group from Malaysia and the French Groupe Lucien Barriere.
The casino complex is one of the economic pillars of the Ellinikon development plan. An international consortium led by the Greek real estate group Lamda Development plans to invest around eight billion euros in redesigning the fallow site – currently the largest urban development project in Europe.
In addition to the consortium leader Lamda, the Chinese conglomerate Fosun International and the real estate developer Al Maabar from Abu Dhabi are involved in the Global Investment Group. The building site is a fillet unlike any other metropolis in Europe: 620 hectares of land, an area three times the size of the Principality of Monaco, only ten kilometers away from the center of the city of four million Athens, located directly on the Saronic coast Golfs.
In addition to the casino complex, the investors want to build around 8,000 apartments, several hotels, shopping centers, leisure and sports facilities and a marina. The consortium hired renowned architects such as Foster + Partners, the London engineering firm Arup and the landscape architect Charles Anderson for the master plan. The plans were put on hold for a long time due to political resistance.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing alliance Syriza fought the project bitterly even in the opposition. As head of government, under pressure from international creditors, Tsipras had to grudgingly agree to the leasing of the airport site as a condition for further aid loans. With the tender for the casino concession, the start of construction, which is expected for this autumn, is a big step closer.
Interested parties should submit their offers to the Gambling Commission by April 22nd. Condition for participation: Applicants must prove equity capital of at least 200 million euros for the past three financial years and have achieved annual sales of 400 million euros or more during this period. The total investment for the complex is estimated at around 500 million euros.
The minimum bid for the concession initially limited to 30 years, which can be extended for a further 20 years, is 30 million euros. That is not much when you consider that in 2003 the state raised 120 million for the concession of the Mont Parnes casino near Athens. But times have changed since then. The crisis did not leave the casinos unaffected.
While the nine Greek casinos turned over 3.2 billion euros in the pre-crisis year 2008, in 2016 it was only 1.6 billion. After all, a turning point is now emerging: in 2017, sales in the Greek gaming industry rose by almost nine percent. According to preliminary estimates, the trend continued over the past year. In 2018, the Greeks are likely to have spent more than 17 billion euros on games of chance, from roulette to horse betting to scratch cards and online betting.
This corresponds roughly to the turnover of the gaming industry in Germany, which has around eight times as many inhabitants and an almost eighteen times higher gross domestic product. The Greeks are known worldwide as particularly enthusiastic gamblers. Even in antiquity, they paid homage to Tyche, the goddess of luck, with dice games and horse racing. But the planned casino in Ellinikon does not rely solely on the influx of locals, but on players from the Arab region and Israel.
The future casino operator could also benefit from the good relations between Greece and China. Chinese corporations are investing heavily in Greece. Fosun is not only involved in the Ellinikon consortium. The group, whose portfolio includes the company Club Med and a stake in the tour operator Thomas Cook, also wants to bring more Chinese tourists to Greece.
In 2018, the Greeks welcomed almost 102,000 guests from the Middle Kingdom. Thanks to a new flight connection between Beijing and Athens, the number should continue to rise this year. Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura expects Greece to attract more than half a million Chinese tourists in two years.
That would be good news for the operator of the proposed casino. Because no nation is considered to be as keen on gambling as the Chinese.