Cyprus Casino Development Progressing Smoothly

Cyprus Casino Development Progressing Smoothly

In 2015, the Republic of Cyprus approved legislation allowing the first ever casino resort to be built on the island, with the €550-million ($651.8m) project awarded to Hong Kong-listed firm Melco and its Cypriot partner CNS Group.

While the integrated resort is not expected to be completed before 2021, Melco is currently building a temporary venue that it hopes will be finished in time to take advantage of the summer season in Cyprus, which is traditionally the busiest time of year for its thriving tourist industry.

In the meantime, the Turkish-controlled northern half of Cyprus known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), which was invaded by Turkish troops in 1974 and is currently recognized only by Turkey, has more than two dozen casinos across its territory. However, 13 of these gaming venues appear to have fallen foul of the Turkish Board of Investigation on Financial Crimes (MASAK) and are now being investigated for illegal betting and the laundering of around $5 billion in foreign currency.

Republic of Cyprus

The Republic of Cyprus became a full member of the European Union (EU) in 2004, but a decade later suffered a financial crisis which ultimately saw it look to other sources of income to help strengthen its economy, including casino gambling. Once completed, the Melco International-Hard Rock International is then expected to add a further €100 million ($117m) in annual tax revenue to government coffers, and create jobs for an additional 6,500 people, in addition to enhancing the country’s reputation as a world-class tourist destination.

The casino resort will be located in Limassol on the island’s southern coast, and according to Melco International CEO Lawrence Ho Yau Lung a special ground breaking ceremony will be held on June 8th to commemorate the progress made thus far.

“The temporary facilities are due to open in the summer. We have exciting times ahead. And in two and a half years, the permanent integrated resort will open,” commented Lawrence Ho.

This month, Craig Ballantyne was also appointed president of the City of Dreams Mediterranean, with the seasoned gaming industry professional tasked with overseeing the daily operations of the resort and ensuring that all operations comply with Cypriot law.

Turkish Controlled North

An international embargo has been in place against Northern Cyprus since the area unilateral declared its independence in 1983, with the economic embargo supported by the United Nations and the European Union. Turkey subsequently funds the breakaway country to the tune of around €500 million per annum, with casinos also providing another source of income for the so-called KKTC, despite its supporter Turkey forbidding the operation of casinos on its mainland.

There are currently 25 or so small scale gambling venues operating in the north, but Turkish prosecutors have now launched an investigation into at least half of them over illegal gambling and money laundering concerns. Already, $100 million has been confiscated by the Turkish Board of Investigation on Financial Crimes (MASAK), with that amount apparently having passed through accounts belonging to casino managers and staff at twenty companies belonging to the casinos.

Furthermore, authorities are currently probing more than $5 billion in illegal transfers made through the seized accounts, including those held in seven banks located in Turkey. One of these accounts is at Bank Asya, which was closed by Turkish authorities recently due to suspected links to the Gülen movement, which is a transnational Islamic social movement headed by Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher who has been living in the United States since 1999. As mentioned in the Turkish pro-government daily Daily Sabah:

“The country implemented a law last year to facilitate the seizure of revenues for illegal betting organizers, but the gangs managed to circumvent the strict monitoring of bank accounts. Authorities say they stepped up cooperation with banks to detect accounts used by gangs and betting.”