Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu interested to set up casino industry in Israel

There are no legalized casinos in Israel so far but that could change very quickly as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has requested two senior ministers in his government to conduct a feasibility study into the casino industry and confirm if it would be a lucrative market for Israel’s economy.

This is the not the first time that Israel has contemplated legalizing gambling within the country. Back in the early 90s, Las Vegas Sands Chairman and billionaire Sheldon Adelson who is a big supporter of Binyamin Netanyahu expressed interest of setting up a Sands casino in Israel. Due to pressure from religious groups and concerns by Israeli security forces the plans to legalize the gambling industry was shelved. In 2000 the $150 million Oasis Casino in Jericho closed after seven weeks of unrest. Previous to that then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin failed in two attempts to open casinos.

Binyamin Netanyahu wants to have a crack at it again and if the feasibility study satisfies his government, then the first legalized casino in Israel could open up in Eilat, a coastal city that is a major attraction for tourists. The prime minister wants to revive the coastal city and turn it into a something similar to the Las Vegas strip.

The feasibility study will also look at the underground or illegal casino industry in Israel which continues to grow at a rapid pace. These illegal casinos are spread all across Israel and have an exclusive clientele that work on an invitation only basis. These illegal casinos are controlled by the mafia and Israel will have to work on eliminating these underground casinos to run a successful legalized casino industry. The authorities are already taking steps in this direction as they recently arrested Ian Ben-Shitreet, who is generally known as the gambling don in Eilat. He was arrested on charges of racketeering and attempted murder.

Eilat currently allows gambling cruises where tourists can get on board a floating casino which sails into international waters and allows them to gamble on board. The other alternative for Israeli gamblers is to cross over to Egypt and play at the Red Sea resorts like Caesars Cairo Casino. Egypt is not a very safe option due to the unrest and another reason why Israel is contemplating legalizing the casino industry as there is very little competition in the region.

The tourism minister Yariv Levin fully supported the prime minister’s initiative to set up a casino industry in Israel. In a statement, Levin said “As tourism minister, I support this fully. I have no doubt that the way to help Eilat economically and to increase the number of tourists is by means of a casino. There is no doubt that a casino also has very serious social potential and if we go ahead with this, we have to make sure that this is done with restrictions and supervision to prevent the casino from becoming an incubator for crime”.