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January 20, 1995 - Image 160

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-01-20

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The Lure Of Las Vegas

In Israel, the land of miracles,
the battle over the casino begins.



el Aviv. Should the Jewish
state have its very own
gambling casino? The ques-
tion goes to the heart of the
culture clash over whether Is-
raelis are too money-mad, too ea-
ger to ape the West, or whether
they're just learning to live a lit-
tle and pursue happiness like
healthy, normal people. The casi-
no that may be looming in Israel's
future is a symbol — for some, of
runaway moral degradation; for
others, of freedom.
Ever since the Oslo Accord,
and especially since the peace
with Jordan, there's been an ac-
celerated push for an Israeli casi-
no — first in Eilat, the resort city
of 36,000 people at the country's
southern tip on the Red Sea, then
in other out-of-the way
tourist spots. With
borders opening,
tourism booming, and
the dollar signs of
peace in a lot of peo-
ple's eyes, an Israeli
casino sounds like a
"The mayors of
Tiberias [on the Sea
of Galilee shore] and
Nahariya [on the
northern coast] told
me they'd like
to have casinos in
their cities.
There's also been
talk about build-
ing one in
Yerucham and
Mitzpe Ramon .
[both economic-
ally depressed
Negev towns]," said Labor Knes-
set Member Avi Yehezkel, head
of the Knesset's tourism sub-
committee. Next month, Mr.
Yehezkel and Likud Knesset
Member Dan Tichon plan to in-
troduce a bill calling for an Eilat-
area casino.
Some of the world's biggest ho-
tel gambling moguls would like
to build it. Sheldon Adelson, own-
er of the Las Vegas Convention
Center and the city's Sands Ho-
tel, is negotiating to erect a $100
million to $150 million conven-
tion center in Eilat. The casino
could come later. Sol Kerzner,
master builder of South Africa's
Sun City, has talked of putting
up a casino in the southern
Negev's Timna region. Donald
Trump has said he's interested
in getting into Eilat; so have a
couple of Israelis who own stakes
in Hungarian and Turkish gam-
bling houses.
At the beginning of January,
Israel received an emissary from

the gambling world's capital. The
Tourism Ministry invited T as Ve-
gas Mayor Jan Jones to describe
the wonders casinos had done for
her hometown.
Las Vegas, she told the
tourism subcommittee, had blos-
somed, thanks to the "gaming in-
dustry." Strict licensing practices
had run the Mafia out of town.
Revenues from casinos had been
plowed back into education, cul-
tural institutions and police. Las
Vegas, she said, was America's
"fastest-growing city, and that's
because of the qualify of life."
Yossi Levy, head of the Israel
Police's investigations division,
said his people had no objections
to a casino, as long as they were
given the authority and presence
to keep organized
crime out and drugs,
prostitution and
street crime down.
The attitude of the
subcommittee was
that what's good for
Las Vegas is good for
Eilat. The casino
should be built.
About 70 percent
of Israelis agree, said
Tourism Minister Uzi
Baram, citing polls
commissioned by the
tourism industry. Is-
raelis are already big
gamblers. Their
newest summer va-
cation craze is Anato-
lia and the other
casino re-
sorts. More
than 300,000 Israelis take cheap
charter flights there each year.
Many others go to the casino in
the Taba Hilton, just across the
Egyptian border from Eilat. Still
others play the tables in Greece,
Poland, Czechoslovakia, not to
mention Las Vegas. Tourism of-
ficials estimate that Israelis
spend some $200 million annu-
ally on gambling vacations
abroad. There are scores of ille-
gal "floating casinos" operating
in Israeli homes and storefronts.
On the legal end, between 1.5
million and 2 million Israelis wa-
ger about $500 million a year on
the weekly, state-run lotteries
and soccer pools.
"Another casino is going to be
built in Taba, and one will prob-
ably be built in Aqaba [right over
the Jordanian border from
Eilat]," said Tourism Ministry
spokeswoman Orly Doron. "For
the sake of Israel's tourism in-
dustry, we have to be prepared to
meet that competitive threat."

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