- "Barcelona is an outstanding tourism destination," official says
- Spaniards have dubbed the project "EuroVegas"
- The decision comes amid the nation's deep economic crisis
The Las Vegas Sands Corp. finally made it official: Madrid will be the site of its next multibillion dollar casino and hotel complex and not Barcelona, which just hours before the announcement said it would build its own, smaller gambling resort.
"Barcelona is an outstanding tourism destination and choosing Madrid over Barcelona was not an easy selection," Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson said in statement late Friday in Las Vegas.
Spaniards have dubbed the project "EuroVegas" and news media have focused almost daily headlines on the fierce competition between Madrid, the nation's capital, and Barcelona, the second-largest city, to win the project.
The battle came amid the nation's deep economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of more than 24% overall and more than 50% for Spanish youth. The Las Vegas Sands project promised to generate up to 250,000 jobs, reports say.
Plans indicate the project would be an approximately 18 billion euros ($22 billion) development with 12 hotels including 36,000 rooms, six casinos and three golf courses to be built over a decade.
But Las Vegas Sands Corp. would provide only up to 35% of the equity, and the company said the final size of the project, its specific location in Madrid and financing options still need to be determined.
Spain is in the process of receiving up to a 100-billion euro bailout from European authorities for some of the country's weakest banks, which ran up huge debts when the decade-long property boom crashed. Even at the healthiest banks here, credit is still tight.
Critics of the gambling complex say it's the wrong kind of development model for a country trying to pull out of recession. The hotel and casino jobs, critics say, would be mainly low-skilled and low paying, besides attracting organized crime to Spain, which is already one of the world's top tourist destinations.
Earlier Friday, the Catalan regional government, whose capital is Barcelona, announced its own gambling resort, called Barcelona World, to be built near the city around an existing amusement park.
Barcelona World would be a 4.5 billion euros ($5.7 billion) investment, with six hotels and six casinos, enough to generate 20,000 jobs, about a fourth of the investment of EuroVegas in Madrid.
Weeks ago, Las Vegas Sands indicated it would say in early September whether it had chosen Madrid or Barcelona for the project.
A Madrid opposition politician Tuesday got a jump on his adversaries in the Madrid regional government and the Las Vegas Sands Corp. announcing that he was certain the casino resort would come to Madrid.
That set off several days of official denials and no comments. On Thursday, Catalan officials in Barcelona revealed that their offer to host the Las Vegas Sands project expired on August 31.
And it came down to Friday, with Catalan officials first, and hours later the Las Vegas Sands Corp., announcing their gambling resorts for Barcelona and Madrid, respectively.
Adelson, a major donor to the Republican Party, has built Las Vegas Sands Corp. into a leading global developer of gambling, entertainment and convention resorts.
The company has The Venetian and The Palazzo gambling resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, and has expanded into Asian markets, with the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore. On Macao, through its majority-owned subsidiary Sands China Ltd., it has the Venetian Macao and Sands Macao properties.