Kahlon Derides Casino Talk as ‘Ridiculous Rumor’

YERUSHALAYIM -

Despite reports about two weeks ago saying that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin were pushing a plan for the development of a casino-entertainment complex in Eilat, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon dismissed the idea on Sunday.

Kahlon derided the talk as premature, though he would not be drawn on whether he personally opposes the casino idea, merely emphasizing that a serious public debate must be conducted before any concrete plan can be formulated, Globes reported.

“It’s true that the Eilat Airport is being vacated, and they want to bring something there, but they could also bring other things there. Two weeks ago, people were talking about casinos everywhere you looked [in the media], and everyone knows that there won’t be a casino, but they were talking about it. It was obviously just a ridiculous rumor, because there won’t be a casino.”

However, the public outcry has already started, with MKs from United Torah Judaism and Shas strongly opposing it on the grounds that it is well documented that legalized gambling has extremely damaging social effects, bankrupting and tearing families apart.

Proponents of the idea insisted that only casinos could save the economy of Eilat from a fatal nosedive.

Their case was torpedoed by Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzchak Halevi, who told reporters, “We are very disappointed that officials are bandying about this idea that Eilat is ‘collapsing’ or ‘dying.’ We do not oppose any project to enhance tourism, but to turn us into a ‘basket case’ is just insulting and upsetting.”

Recent figures released by the Tourism Ministry and the Central Bureau of Statistics show that tourism was up in 2015 by 12 percent over the numbers in 2014. Eilat earned NIS 1.88 billion ($490 million) in tourism income last year, with over a billion shekels of that sum coming from foreign tourists. Hotels were 70 percent full on average in both years as well, better than the average 66 percent in previous years, such as 2005 and 2007, which were considered “good” years.

In addition, tax records show that tax collection was up 7 percent over the past three years compared to the previous period.

“That figure more than any shows that we are not ‘collapsing,’” said Halevi.