Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov is planning to set up a public committee to study the development of a casino resort and conference center for the Red Sea city of Eilat.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Amnon Liberman, spokesman for the tourism minister, said, “The idea is that the casino or casinos won’t stand alone, but will be developed in tandem with a major convention center to be built in the city. The minister believes that the combination will attract large numbers of people who don’t customarily see Eilat as a viable destination.”
Last year, Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi presented a strategic economic vision of the city to Meseznikov. Included were casinos, convention centers, a new boardwalk, retail development, marinas and luxury hotels.
Liberman said the committee will be headed by a retired judge and will look into all aspects of the development, especially legal aspects. When finished, a report will be issued.
Eli Gonen, president of the Israel Hotel Association, said, “I congratulate the minister on his proposal, which I think will do a great deal of good for the city, which is currently facing stiff competition from its neighbors in Egypt and Jordan. However, I urge the minister not to go down the path of a public committee.”
Gonen was himself director-general of the tourism ministry in the late 1990s. At the time, he established a similar committee, which reportedly conducted the background work necessary to introduce casinos.
“If done correctly, there is no limit to the number of tourists that casinos and conference halls can draw,” said Gonen. “If the state figures out how to tax the owners correctly, it can also mean a great contribution to the budget, which can then go to aid citizen welfare.”
Ami Etgar, director-general of the Incoming Tour Operators Association, wants casinos so tourism officials can re-brand Eilat and compete with Aqaba, a Red Sea resort city in Jordan.
“We need to find a way to fill the 11,000 hotel rooms in the city,” said Etgar. He does not want to see Eilat become a gambling center, but believes a measured approach to casinos is one way to promote the economy of the city and the nation.