largest cities are vying to become the home of a 17bn Vegas-style
development and secure work for locals
Spain's two main cities are battling it out for a Vegas-style complex
of a dozen casinos, several hotels, shopping malls, conference centres, golf
courses and theatres in an attempt to create jobs as the economy slumps back
With unemployment at 23% and rising, politicians
calculate the vast casino city will create 260,000 jobs, securing work for
close to half the unemployed in the densely populated provinces of either
Madrid or Barcelona.
But opposition politicians and the church warn
that the cure will be worse than the illness, claiming Europa Vegas, the
17bn (£14.3bn) project planned by the US billionaire Sheldon
Adelson, will bring a surge in gambling addiction.
though, are bending over backwards to accommodate Adelson, who is reportedly
demanding tax breaks, gambling law changes, new labour laws and free land as he
extends his empire from Las Vegas and Asia into Europe.
"We believe we have the necessary package of
agreements with the government which we need to provide assurance of success,"
Adelson told Forbes magazine, which described him as the American billionaire
who had most increased his wealth since 2008. "We're just finalising the last
His Las Vegas Sands company did not answer a request for
details about the agreements reached on the project, which would be equivalent
in size to half of the Las Vegas strip, the four-mile stretch of megacasinos in
Last week Adelson was in Spain again, looking at a vast
beachfront stretch of land close to Barcelona's airport that has been offered
to him despite environmental protection orders.
"This would turn
Catalonia and Barcelona into the leading tourism zone in Europe," said the
regional Catalan president, Artur Mas.
But Mas accepts Madrid is in the
lead. Its regional prime minister, Esperanza Aguirre, has met Adelson five
times. "We should change whatever norms have to be changed," she said recently.
"We have to encourage this ... though there are some demands that can be
accepted and others that cannot."
Both regions hope Europa Vegas will
have the kind of runaway financial success that Adelson's new outposts in
Singapore and Macao are enjoying.
But opposition politicians in both
Madrid and Barcelona are worried. "We don't agree with this sort of economic
model, which would create a tax haven that comes close to being a form of
slavery," said a socialist Madrid regional deputy José Quintana.
Local bishops in Madrid are rebelling against the project. "As a recent
parliamentary session pointed out, gambling addiction brings with it an
increase in illegal acts, suicides and bankruptcies," the bishopric of
Alcalá said in a note to parishioners.
Forbes rates 78-year-old
Adelson as the eighth wealthiest person in the US, with a net worth of $21.5bn.
Income at Las Vegas Sands, which owns the Venetian, the Palazzo and the Sands
Expo Center in Las Vegas, leaped 26% in the last quarter though 90% of
his profits now come from operations in Macao and Singapore.