Vegas casino in Spain: No sand, no stogies, no problem

By Al Goodman, CNNPublished 8th February 2013
The company that owns the Venetian in Las Vegas, pictured here, is planning to open a casino-hotel resort in Madrid.
Spain's capital may not be causing shivers to Monaco's famed Monte Carlo casino just yet, but Madrid hopes to muscle in on Europe's appetite for gambling.
The first phase of a controversial, multi-billion dollar casino and hotel complex that Spaniards are calling "EuroVegas" is scheduled to open in 2017 in the Madrid suburb of Alcorcon, about eight miles southwest of the city center.
A top executive from Las Vegas Sands Corporation -- founded and run by American billionaire political activist Sheldon Adelson -- unveiled the exact location of its large complex during a news conference on Friday.
The new resort could bring tens of thousands of new jobs to recession-gripped Spain as it lures travelers hungry for a taste of Vegas in Europe.
Opponents say the Vegas-style resort would create only low-skilled and low-paying jobs -- not the development model needed to put Spain get back on its feet economically. They also have concerns that the resort would attract organized crime.
At Friday's packed news conference, Las Vegas Sands chief operating officer Michael Leven said he's confident of securing financing for the first phase of the project, which would cost approximately $9 billion and include 12,000 hotel rooms.
Las Vegas Sands is financing $3.6 billion, or 40%, of the cost of the first phase, and Leven said he has "assurances from many banks" about financing the remaining 60%.
But an aide later said that no contracts have been signed yet. That may be because Las Vegas Sands must still formally compete to win the right to build the development through an open public bid process. That process opens in March, officials said, and results should be announced by September.
If the company wins the bid, groundbreaking could begin by the end of this year.
Leven said the first phase could easily generate some tens of thousands of jobs, based on the company's experience at its similar, but smaller, gambling resort in Singapore.
A company spokeswoman later said the entire $22 billion project, when completed over 20 years, could create 250,000 jobs.
Las Vegas Sands' CEO Adelson has built the company into a leading global developer of gambling, entertainment and convention resorts. It owns The Venetian and The Palazzo gambling resorts in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has expanded into Asian markets, including resorts in Singapore and Macau.
Last September, Adelson announced that he'd chosen Madrid, instead of Barcelona, as the site for the project in Spain. That set off months of debate over which of three potential locations in the Madrid area would get the nod, something that was finally resolved publicly on Friday.
Las Vegas Sands had previously said that the resort's access to Madrid's international airport was a priority. Yet, the suburb of Alcorcon and the airport are located on opposite sides of city center.
Spanish authorities are considering rail links between the airport and the resort, Madrid regional government president Ignacio Gonzalez said Friday, although such a plan would require input from Spain's national government.
Another detail being worked out is whether visitors to Madrid's "EuroVegas" resort will be able to light up, something that's commonplace inside the large casinos on the Vegas Strip.
Spain has strict no-smoking laws in public places and the national government would have to grant a special waiver to allow smoking in the casino resort.