U.S. casino mogul Adelson gambles on Madrid as site of EuroVegas

Eurovegas
MADRID -- Billionaire casino mogul and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson has decided on the Spanish capital as the location to build EuroVegas, a $21-billion European gambling city to rival Las Vegas.

The project would offer Spain up to a quarter million desperately needed jobs, as the country struggles to avoid an international bailout. Spanish unemployment is near 25%, and more than double that for young people. That's the highest in the Eurozone, the 17 nations that use the euro currency.

But there are conditions. Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands, says it would fund up to only 35% of the project, leaving Madrid to raise the rest of the money. The firm is also demanding tax breaks and exemptions from local labor laws, and it wants customers to be allowed to smoke freely inside the casinos, despite a nationwide ban on lighting up in most public buildings.

Local politicians nevertheless cheered the choice of Madrid after several months of speculation and a rival bid by Barcelona. Adelson is thought to have personally preferred Madrid, having made an unannounced helicopter trip to one of the proposed casino sites near the capital in the spring.

Opponents of the casino say that the last thing Spain needs to gamble on is another huge construction project. Spain's economy is in dire straits in large part because of a burst real-estate bubble that has left the country awash in empty, unsold homes.

The project would feature a dozen high-rise hotels with a total of 36,000 rooms, 18,000 slot machines and three golf courses. Las Vegas Sands had previously put the cost at $21 billion, though it issued a statement last Friday saying the "size, scope, specific location, and financing options" were still to be determined. Municipal authorities have identified three tracts of land on the outskirts of Madrid as possible construction sites.

"The process is still very much in the early phases, and progress towards resolution of the current economic challenges within Europe will be an important consideration," the company said, leaving open the possibility that Europe's debt crisis could throw a kink into its plans.

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After a construction bust, Spain may gamble on more: a EuroVegas

-- Lauren Frayer

Photo: Protesters in Madrid rally against a massive casino complex that Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy American, wants to build in the Spanish capital. Credit: Gustavo Cuevas / European Pressphoto Agency

 
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