EILAT - Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to pass a law that would allow public tenders for a strip of casino hotels in the Red Sea coastal city of Eilat, the local Yedioth Eilat newspaper reported Thursday.
Currently, casino gambling is illegal in Israel.
“Eilat is about to undergo a huge change that it has not known since its establishment,” he told the city’s local supplement of the newspaper. “Our plans are far-reaching regarding Eilat, its surrounding areas and the entire Negev (desert). We want to make Eilat the tourism capital of Israel.”
Eilat, which borders Egypt and Jordan, serves as a magnet for both Israeli and foreign tourists. The city is Israel's hottest town, boasting numerous resorts and beaches on the coast of the Red Sea, as well as the Coral Reef.
Bibi: Foreign investment to reach all-time high
Netanyahu said the casino project would resemble hotels in Las Vegas and that foreign investors have already expressed interest in the idea, including billionaire Sheldon Edelson, the richest Jew in the world who also owns the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
“What is special about Las Vegas is that it (combines) gambling, hotels, entertainment and shopping,” Netanyahu said. “This is a collective concept that big contractors in Las Vegas and South Africa specialize in, so it’s natural that we speak to them.”
Past legislative efforts to legalize gambling in Israel have failed due to concerns over immorality and crime. Thousands of Israelis used to flock to a major casino in the Palestinian city of Jericho before the start of a four-year-old Palestinian uprising in 2000.
“People feel something real is happening,” he said. “It’s important to me that a large part of these investments will reach Eilat,” he said. “The process will involve a tender, and Edelson and anyone else would have to compete for the best conditions to offer to the Israeli government.”