A new Las Vegas, in the Aragon desert
Planned gambling hub seeks to attract millions, but critics label it "madness."
14 December 2007
ZARAGOZA - The sound of slot machines and roulette wheels will soon ring out across the arid plains of Aragon after the government of the northeastern region gave final approval this week to a project to build the world's second-largest gambling hub after Las Vegas.
The Gran Scala complex will fill 20 square kilometres of the Los Monegros desert, located about half-way between Madrid and Barcelona, with 32 casinos, 70 hotels, 232 restaurants, 500 stores, a golf course, a race track and a bullring, according to plans unveiled Wednesday by a group of investors. To top it off, the complex, which is due to start being built next year, will include replicas of the Egyptian pyramids, various Roman temples and a mock-up of the Pentagon that will become home to Spyland, the first of several planned theme parks.
"There is not, nor will there be, another entertainment complex like this in Europe," argued Nicholas Khin, a spokesman for Aristocrat Technologies, one of 12 international groups behind the project.
The consortium, known as International Leisure Development, plans to invest EUR 17 billion into the project, roughly twice the amount spent on preparing Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics. By 2015, they expect the complex to be bringing in 25 million visitors a year, half as many as the number of tourists who visited Spain in the whole of 2006. "It will be the top destination on the Iberian Peninsular," a representative of one of the investors predicted.
"Calling card to world"
Given the possibility of the project creating tens of thousands of jobs in a region that has missed out on Spain's sun and sea tourism boom, the investors have been welcomed with open arms by the Aragon government and the central government.
"This is going to be Aragon's calling card to the world," regional premier Marcelino Iglesias declared at Wednesday's presentation.
Iglesias' government has pledged to invest EUR 250 million in building the necessary infrastructure for the project in expectation that it will receive EUR 600 million a year in taxes. The central government, meanwhile, plans to relax gambling laws.
Not everyone is happy, however. Environmentalists and leftist lawmakers are up in arms over the project, which will require bringing vast energy and water resources to what until now has been a sparsely populated, arid area.
"We may seem like killjoys, but this is madness," exclaimed Adolfo Barrena, the head of the United Left party in Aragon.
[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ NATALIA JUNQUERA 2007]
Subject: Spanish news