Cyprus lawmakers approve first casino resort

Nicosia (AFP) - The Cyprus parliament passed legislation on Thursday paving the way for a first-ever casino resort in the government-held south of the Mediterranean island.

There have long been casinos in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, but opposition from the influential Greek Orthodox Church and misgivings among many Greek Cypriots about the social dangers of gambling have kept them out of the south.

Parliament voted by 29 votes to 22 to approve the law, which is a key part of the government's plans to stimulate the island's debt-ridden eurozone economy.

Most of the no votes came from the opposition communist party AKEL.

The law will regulate the establishment, operation, supervision and control of a first super casino.

The minimum requirement for the complex is 100 gaming tables and 1,000 machines.

It also allows for the operator to have a smaller satellite casino, and another three-machine-only outlet.

Nicosia is expected to invite expressions of interest from major players from Las Vegas and Asia in August.

Las Vegas heavyweight Kerznar and the Genting group have reportedly shown interest.

The winning bidder for the 30-year licence will choose where to build the casino.

The project is being fast-tracked in a bid to boost tourism and employment on the island, which is struggling to emerge from recession after the government was forced to accept crippling terms for a debt bailout by international lenders in March 2013.

The government hopes the resort could open as early as 2018 if everything goes according to plan.

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