Cyprus signed a deal today with Macau's Melco International and America's Hard Rock for the construction and operation of the biggest casino of its kind in Europe, a minister said.
The casino resort -- estimated to cost 600 million euros (USD 672 million) -- will be the first in the internationally recognised south of the Mediterranean holiday island.
"This opens the road to realising one of the largest infrastructure projects that has ever been done in our country," said Commerce and Tourism Minister George Lakkotrypis.
Once completed, the complex would be the largest integrated casino in Europe with 500 hotel rooms and other facilities spanning more than 6,000 square metres (64,580 square feet).
"In addition, the casino resort will include the largest casino in Europe, with 136 gaming tables and 1,200 gaming machines," Lakkotrypis said at the signing ceremony in Nicosia.
The consortium has a 30-year licence to build an integrated casino resort in the southern coastal town of Limassol and set up four satellite casinos in other towns.
These should be operating next year but no timeline was given for when the main resort would be open for business.
There have long been casinos in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the island, which is only recognised by Turkey.
But, until now, opposition from the influential Greek Orthodox Church and misgivings among many Greek Cypriots about the social dangers of gambling had kept them out of the south.
A casino complex is a key part of the current government's plans to stimulate the island's recovering eurozone economy with the creation of nearly 4,000 jobs to build it.
And a super casino is expected to add another 300,000 tourists annually, bolstering the already three million-plus arrivals.
"Our goal, of course, is to improve incoming tourism by increasing arrivals, average stays and average per capita spending," said the minister.
It is estimated revenue of around 100 million euros per annum could fill state coffers from the casino operation.
European Union member Cyprus plunged into a financial crisis in 2013, leaving a number of its top banks insolvent and forcing it to negotiate painful bailout with international creditors.
It has since recovered, after the imposition of harsh austerity measures in exchange for a loan of 10 billion euros (then USD 13 billion) from the International Monetary Fund and the EU.
The Cypriot economy grew by 2.8 per cent in 2016 and a similar growth rate is expected for this year, buoyed by an anticipated increase in tourism revenue.
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