Casino owners call for more incentives from north

A major casino owner in the north has accused the Turkish Cypriot authorities of being “coy” over the USD 500 million made annually from the gaming industry, and has called on the administration to devise a clear and workable policy on casinos.

“In 2007, casinos in north Cyprus paid USD 75 million tax to the government, and directly or indirectly injected USD 500 million into the economy,” director of the Grand Casino Club, Aydogan Turay told the Turkish-language daily Hurriyet. Grand Club Casino is one of three casinos in the north owned by Turkish giant Net Holding, a company listed on the Istanbul Stock Exchange and which boasts 46 subsidiaries and over USD 255 million of foreign currency reserves.

Despite this, Turay said, the authorities in the north appeared reluctant to accept the legitimacy of the gaming business, preferring to tax it at rates that could drive the business off the island.

“We are already disadvantaged by the lack of direct flights because of the embargo, but as well as this, the taxes are too high,” Turay complained. He called on the authorities to accept that north Cyprus had become a “gaming destination” and set taxes low enough to help the industry grow.

“When we opened our first casino in 2000, the companies at international fairs were still reluctant to sell us their gaming machines. Now, however, the TRNC has gained a reputation of being an important gaming destination,” Turay said.

Turay’s comments have reawakened calls for the introduction of the north’s long-awaited casino law reform, which, it is believed, will bring the industry closer in line with internationally-accepted gaming practices.

A reformed version of the law was first mooted in September 2005 and included proposals for tighter rules on taxation, along with the introduction of permanent inspection teams to work in the north’s 23 casinos.

Economist Vargin Varer believes implementation of the law, which has been awaiting ratification by the Turkish Cypriot ‘parliament’ since 2005, could go a long way to bringing the industry into line.

“I’m not against the industry in principle, but as things stand there is the potential for crime, particularly money laundering,” Varer told the Cyprus Mail.

“What is needed is more discipline to cut out the mafia connections. This is something that will also help improve the image of the north internationally and thereby boost investments in other sectors,” he added.

Yesterday, no-one from the north’s ‘finance ministry’ was available for comment about when the reform bill might be introduced.

Turay, however, remains confident that the industry is set for a major boost. In November his casino will host its third ‘Texas Holdem Tournament’. It follows two other tournaments which boasted the combined participation of 290 competitors and prize money of over USD 380,000. The earlier tournaments, he said, were attended by officials from the internationally renowned World Poker Tour (WPM), who he said were “so impressed” they were likely to sign a deal which could lead to the “biggest-ever tournament held by the WPT”.

“If it happens, the whole world will be watching the TRNC on TV,” he said.

Another boost to the industry, Turay believes, will come with the opening two days ago of the ‘Merit Lefkosa’ casino. While casinos in Kyrenia claim around 30 per cent of their clientele is Greek Cypriot, Turay believes the new casino’s proximity to crossings in the Nicosia buffer zone will mean that up to 90 per cent of customers will come from the south.

Turkish Cypriots, meanwhile, remain prohibited from entering casinos in the north.