PM Olmert pushing for casino in Red Sea resort town of Eilat

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is pushing for a casino in Eilat, after three years of freezing the matter. Two teams are currently studying the possibility of establishing a gambling resort, TheMarker has learned.

A month ago Olmert ordered the establishment of a group, led by the treasury’s director general, Yarom Ariav, to study the issue and to prepare a master plan. At the same time, the outgoing head of the Mifal Hapayis national lottery, Shimon Katznelson, has been discussing the possibility of the lottery running a casino with Raanan Dinur, the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The committee studying the matter includes representatives of the police and from the justice, interior, tourism and welfare ministries. The committee has been asked to discuss the location of a casino and whether such an establishment would be run by a private franchisee or the state.

The Finance Ministry said it had yet to formulate a stance on the matter. The committee has met a few times and will present its conclusions to Olmert in a few weeks. According to Ariav, a treasury committee has been meeting over the matter since August.

At the same time, Dinur asked Katznelson a month ago to submit a detailed plan for a Payis-run casino, according to sources inside the lottery. He then established a professional team to formulate such a plan, which will be presented to Olmert at the beginning of November.

Katznelson has already met with the mayor of Eilat and they have agreed to cooperate. The city wants to build a casino next to the yet unbuilt convention center, city hall sources told TheMarker.

Dinur’s office responded: „No one in the office is dealing with the matter of a casino. The entire matter is in the hands of an intra-ministerial committee headed by Yarom Ariav. When the committee finishes its work, the conclusions will be presented to the Prime Minister’s Office, which will decide how to proceed.“

In the past, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged building a casino in the South, in Eilat or Mitzpeh Ramon. The initiative was torpedoed, partly as a result of pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties.