ATHENS (Reuters) – Hard Rock International will bid for a casino license in a long-delayed tourist development in Athens and plans to spend more than 1 billion euros ($1.11 billion) on the project, the U.S. firm’s chairman said in a newspaper interview.

The casino will be part of a planned 8 billion-euro ($8.97 billion) resort known as Hellenikon, built by developer Lamda (AT:) on the site of Athens’ disused Hellenikon airport, with the backing of Chinese and Gulf funds.

For the past 18 years the old Hellenikon terminals have stood abandoned on a sprawling wasteland three times the size of Monaco, along with derelict water sport venues used for the Athens 2004 Olympics.

Lamda plans to build one of Europe’s biggest coastal resorts, covering 620 hectares (1,532 acres). The project, part of a post-bailout agreement between Greece and its lenders, has faced bureaucratic delays in recent years amid a long-running row with critics who fear it will damage the environment and the country’s cultural heritage.

But a new conservative government has stepped up the licensing process since taking office in July and want to conclude it by the end of the year.

Greece has set an Oct. 4 bid deadline in a tender for the construction and 30-year operation of the casino.

“We want to develop an integrated tourism and entertainment complex that is much more than just a box with slot machines and gaming tables. Entertainment is at the heart of our philosophy”, Chairman Jim Allen told Kathimerini newspaper.

“In our estimate, the whole investment will be significantly higher than 1 billion euros,” he said, adding that 60 percent of the investment will be financed from bank loans and the rest from equity, probably with the participation of local partners.

The country saw record tourist arrivals in 2018 of 33 million people and expects a similar number this year. Hellenikon is expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, a significant boost to the country’s economy which has been recovering after a multi-year debt crisis.

Allen said Athens has been one of the top urban destinations in the world, combining ancient culture with sea and sunshine.

U.S. casino operator Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment and Greek contractor GEK Terna (AT:) have also announced their intention to jointly bid for the casino license.

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2019-09-04