Unveiling Europe's Largest Casino: A New Era of Tourism for Cyprus

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On Tuesday, Cyprus, the eastern Mediterranean island, unveiled the largest gambling resort in Europe, The City of Dreams Mediterranean, with the expectation of drawing an additional 300,000 high-spending tourists each year.

Melco, a gambling corporation headquartered in Hong Kong, is the creative force behind the massive project. The idea first dawned on the CEO, Lawrence Ho, 16 years ago during a wedding trip to Cyprus. 

Constructed over a three-year span, the resort stands majestically in the southern coastal city of Limassol. At a whopping cost of over 637 million euros ($700 million), it currently provides employment for around 2,000 staff. 

Considered a transformative milestone for the region's crucial tourism industry, the resort is anticipated to tackle seasonality challenges and draw deep-pocketed guests from nearby regions such as Israel and the Gulf, and even farther locales. 

Lawrence Ho, during the official inauguration on Tuesday, expressed his belief that the resort would pave the way for new opportunities in Africa and the Middle East. "A property of this magnitude offers a plethora of new avenues," added the Melco Resorts and Entertainment CEO.

The resort’s property manager, Grant Johnson, highlighted that the facility is furnished with a solar power system capable of generating 1.2 MW of renewable energy, a crucial asset on the sun-drenched island.

The colossal 14-story hotel complex, shaped like an Inca temple and overlooking the sea near Limassol, boasts a massive gaming area of 7,500 square meters, accommodating 100 tables and 1,000 slot machines. 

However, the completion of Melco's first venture outside Asia faced numerous hurdles. Initially delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak, the project's progress was further stalled by Russia's conflict with Ukraine and the subsequent travel bans and sanctions imposed by the European Union. Given that Russian tourists typically comprise a fifth of Cyprus’s tourists, Melco had been counting on a strong Russian customer base.

In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, Cyprus enjoyed a record-breaking year for its tourism industry, welcoming 3.97 million visitors who spent 2.68 billion euros. Tourism, a vital pillar of the Cypriot economy, contributes approximately 15% to the country's GDP.

The legalization of casinos in Cyprus only took place in 2015. The move was resisted by the influential Greek Orthodox Church and the former leftist president Demetris Christofias due to concerns about potential corruption. Money laundering has also been a persistent worry, with a Greek Cypriot specialist noting that casinos remain a "sensitive subject" on the island.

However, the Cyprus Finance Ministry reaffirmed their ongoing commitment to tackling money laundering, acknowledging it as a "continuous and challenging process" and emphasizing their commitment to "minimizing risks".

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