Knesset Interior Committee Chairman Ophir Paz-Pines warned Tourism Ministry officials that there won’t be a legal casino in Israel anytime soon, despite plans by the Eilat Municipality and the Tourism Ministry to build the country’s first casino.
Despite plans by the Eilat Municipality and the Tourism Ministry to build the country’s first casino, Paz-Pines remained adamant that the Knesset would never legalize gambling. „Making plans and laying the groundwork for the casino is completely illegal,“ Paz-Pines said during Tuesday’s committee hearing.
Tourism officials said they were drafting a bill that would legalize gambling establishments in certain locations, specifically in Eilat. „The city has greatly suffered from the reduced flow of tourism that was once the city’s lifeblood,“ a ministry official said. „The state does nothing to help Eilat and their economy is suffering.“
Members of the Interior Committee, however, rejected the ministry’s reasoning. „Every statistic we have heard, every official who has spoken, has shown that a casino will only bring more problems. It will encourage all forms of crime, from prostitution to the black market, while infecting the community that surrounds it,“ police Inspector Eli Jacobson told the panel.
Earlier this month, the Israel Lands Administration said it planned to allocate 50,000 sqm for a casino. The Tourism Ministry says a casino would generate USD 174.7 million in tax revenues a year and would create 900 jobs. The ministry promises to use revenue from a casino to address social problems.
„I can not understand a man who served so many years fighting crime would consider such an endeavor,“ said Paz-Pines, referring to Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu), who used to be a policeman. Aharonovitch, for his part, said a casino would reduce crime by taking business away from illegal betting establishments.
„A casino in Eilat is one of our main objectives for 2008 and its success will lead to the establishment of additional casinos throughout the country. As a former law enforcement official, I can tell those who oppose the idea that a casino would reduce the extent of the illegal gambling operations in Israel as well as related criminal activities,“ Aharonovitch said.
Illegal gambling in Israel is estimated at more than USD 3.6 billion per year. Studies clearly show that casinos increase illegal gambling, said Paz-Pines. „If Eilat wants to improve tourism it should look at the example of its neighbor in Jordan, Aqaba. By providing better facilities, keeping the shoreline clear of hotels and other structures, and offering better rates, Aqaba has shown up Eilat in every way.“
The Tourism Ministry plans to present its casino bill in the coming months. MKs from several parties, including Labor, Kadima, the National Union-National Religious Party, Shas and Meretz, have voiced strong opposition to the legislation.