Spain’s Eurovegas casino complex could be exempt from anti-smoking law

Legal obstacles set to be relaxed to allow complex near Madrid to proceed

An impression of the Eurovagas gambling complex proposed for the Spanish town of Alcorcón, just outside Madrid. American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is behind the project, which would include six casinos and 12 hotels.

An impression of the Eurovagas gambling complex proposed for the Spanish town of Alcorcón, just outside Madrid. American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is behind the project, which would include six casinos and 12 hotels.

Sat, Jun 1, 2013, 01:00

It is a project that critics say will be a magnet for crime and prostitution as well as a blot on the landscape, but the latest controversy surrounding a gambling mega-complex to be built in Spain is all about smoking.

EuroVegas will be a European gambling hub with the glamour of Las Vegas. American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, with an estimated $25 billion fortune, is behind the project, which will see six casinos and 12 hotels built in Alcorcón, a town just outside Madrid.

His Las Vegas Sands company says it chose Spain for its climate, tourism and job-creation potential.

With estimates that it could create up to 260,000 jobs in a country with an unemployment rate of 27 per cent, Spanish officials are seeking to make things as smooth as possible for Mr Adelson, even if that means altering the law.

Madrid’s regional government has already suggested that changes to land zoning and construction regulations could be necessary in order to ensure that Alcorcón can enjoy a Vegas- style makeover.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy admitted this week that a national anti-smoking law, introduced in 2011, could be waived to allow the authentic whiff of cigar smoke to fill EuroVegas.

Although Mr Rajoy said “no decision has been taken” on the smoking issue, others in his conservative Partido Popular (PP) have been more forthright in insisting that casinos will soon be exempt from the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces.


Legal changes
Several senior members of the Madrid regional administration have said they expect the central government to enact legal changes related to EuroVegas, including the anti-smoking law, by the summer.

“Smoking shouldn’t be an obstacle to such an important project,” said Madrid regional government spokesman Salvador Victoria yesterday.

Earlier in the week, Madrid’s head of healthcare Javier Fernández-Lasquetty also backed a change to the smoking law.

“We have to think about the magnitude of what [EuroVegas] means, at a time when there are millions of people out of work in Spain,” he said.

Las Vegas Sands estimates that €15 billion in investment will be pumped into the project over a decade, with construction due to begin later this year.

The seriousness with which the plan is being taken was made clear this week, when Mr Rajoy revealed he had met Mr Adelson on Sunday in the prime minister’s official residence in Madrid.

However the fact that today is the World Health Organisation’s annual No Tobacco Day has not been lost on the project’s critics, who are outraged.

Enrique Normand, an opposition deputy in the Madrid regional parliament, said that Mr Fernández-Lasquetty, like smoking, “is bad for our health”.

Local activists in Alcorcón have organised a long-standing campaign against EuroVegas, casting doubt on the job-creation projections and claiming its brash buildings will blight the landscape.


Social cost
Earlier this year, the Catholic Church also got involved in the controversy.

A local bishop, Joaquín María López, warned that EuroVegas could bring prostitution, money-laundering and drug- taking to Alcorcón.

The gambling complex, Dr López said, “appears to be a quick solution to the unemployment problem, without taking into account its high moral and social cost”.