Gran Escala Casinos

Gambling Las Vegas style in Spain

November 27th, 2007 · No comments

A VAST Las Vegas-style casino and theme park complex is to be built in a Spanish desert after the regional government in Aragon approved the $28.5 billion project last week.

The casino “city”, to be built on 5,000 acres over the next decade in eastern Spain, will include 32 hotels, five theme parks and, in a Las Vegas touch, may even feature “wedding chapels” to encourage honeymoon tourism. Plans also include a stadium and a conference centre. This being Spain, a bullring is envisaged, too.

One of the theme parks is to be called Spyland, where the world of James Bond will be the dominant motif. Backers plan to invite Daniel Craig and Eva Green, stars of Casino Royale, the latest Bond film, to bring a touch of glamour to the project.

Casino Royale“We intend to approach the owners of the Bond movies to see if we can use James Bond in Spyland,” said Didier Rancher, a French entrepreneur whose company is part of the consortium. He and others involved in it hoped that the development would become the largest casino resort in Europe, with at least 12m visitors a year.

For the moment the name of the casino city is simply Gran Escala, meaning large-scale.

The project will be formally unveiled next month. It sounds extraordinarily ambitious, to say the least: the casinos will cover the sweep of history, featuring cavemen croupiers, Roman centurions or courtiers from the time of France’s Louis XIV – not to mention agents of the KGB.

“This is going to be a new version of Las Vegas in Europe,” said a spokesman for Aristocrat Technologies, an Australian gaming company involved in the project. “It’s going to bring lots of jobs. Disneyland Paris will be tiny in comparison.”

A British-based consortium, International Leisure Development, chose the location from three possible sites in Europe because of its relatively low land prices and proximity to Zaragoza airport, an important hub in the low-cost air network.

The beige desert landscape may be reminiscent of Las Vegas but Zaragoza is only a two-hour flight from Stansted airport, near London, and the resort could attract millions of Britons, particularly after plans for a gambling expansion in Britain were placed in doubt by a review that Gordon Brown has ordered into plans for a Manchester “super-casino”.

There are no such inhibitions in Spain, where gambling is hugely popular and slot machines can be found in every bar. Spanish politicians have welcomed the casinos for the money and jobs they will bring.

Marcelino Iglesias, the socialist president of Aragon, estimated the casinos would create 30,000 new jobs. “The project is important for the whole community,” he said.

Next year Zaragoza, which even without a casino city is a tourist destination, will host Expo 2008, a world fair with an ecological theme that has attracted contributions from 95 countries. Millions have been ploughed into a high-speed rail link from Madrid to Zaragoza.

Even so the casino project is expected to run into strong objections from environmentalists, whatever organisers say about their determination to leave the pristine surrounding landscape unscathed.

Adolfo Barrena, a left-wing deputy in the opposition, is to fight the development. “Once again we are seeing that the local government is on the side of private developers instead of the needs of local people,” he said.

Planners are undeterred, however, and are confident of attracting a full house.

Source: The Sunday Times, November 25, 2007
Original title: “Spain deals 007 in for new Las Vegas”
Written by: Graham Keeley, Barcelona

Tags: Casino · Gran Escala · Spain · Zaragoza

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