Could Sheldon Adelson's EuroVegas Go up in Smoke?

Could Sheldon Adelson's EuroVegas Go up in Smoke?
The casino owner wants Spain to modify its antismoking law, but so far the Rajoy government isn't budging (Photograph by Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo)
Photograph by Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo

A tough Spanish antismoking law could snuff out a plan by U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson to develop EuroVegas, a €17 billion ($22 billion) casino complex in the Madrid suburbs.

Officials of the Madrid regional government say that Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. is insisting on an exemption to the 2010 law, which forbids smoking in enclosed public spaces, as a condition of moving forward with the project, which would be Europe’s biggest casino development. Without an exemption, “[w]e run the risk that EuroVegas will be moved to another site,” Regional Premier Ignacio González said in a Sept. 17 interview with esRadio. Ron Reese, a Las Vegas Sands spokesman, says the company doesn’t want to comment on the issue.

According to Spanish news outlets, Adelson has personally brought up the smoking ban during meetings with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The Rajoy government, though, has said recently that it has no plans to amend the law. In a written reply on Sept. 9 to questions posed in the Spanish parliament, the government said that it considered “the promotion of citizens’ health and the prevention of diseases caused by smoking as a priority.”

Gamblers are big smokers. Revenues in Illinois casinos plummeted 20 percent after the state banned smoking there in early 2008, according to a 2009 study (pdf) by the St. Louis Federal Reserve. Casinos just across the border from Illinois in Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri—states that allowed casino smoking—suffered no such losses, and some enjoyed a revenue boost as they attracted former patrons of the Illinois casinos, the study found. More than 30 U.S. states have enacted bans or restrictions on public smoking (pdf), but many exempt casinos and other adult-only venues.

Backers of EuroVegas, to be located in the Madrid suburb of Alcorcón, say it would give a massive boost to Spain’s recession-wracked economy. The project—which includes six casinos, three golf courses, a convention center, and 36,000 hotel rooms—is forecast to create up to 261,000 jobs and attract as many as 4.7 million visitors annually. Besides Las Vegas, Adelson has casino developments in Singapore and Macau.

In the end, the Rajoy government may choose to finesse the issue. El Pais reported on Sept. 14 that the government was drafting an amendment to the smoking ban that would allow regional governments to grant exemptions. Las Vegas Sands “looks forward to the next step in the process” of developing the project, spokesman Reese says. “At this point, there is not much more the company will comment on.”

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