A casino complex billed as the largest of its kind in Europe is scheduled to begin operations in Cyprus by 2021, giving a major boost to the economy, officials said Tuesday.
Macau's Melco International and its Cypriot partner Cyprus Phassouri Ltd presented their plans in Nicosia for the first casino resort in the internationally recognized south of the Mediterranean holiday island.
Estimated to cost 600 million euros, the complex would be the largest integrated casino in Europe, with 500 hotel rooms and other facilities spanning more than 6,000 square meters (64,580 square feet).
It will accommodate 136 gaming tables, 1,200 gaming machines and 11 restaurants.
The project "is expected to have a significant impact on the country's GDP," said Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades at the presentation.
The casino's "broader contribution to the economy from the second year of operation is estimated to be around 700 million euros or four percent of GDP," he added.
Melco's chairman Lawrence Ho said the casino -- to be named City of Dreams Mediterranean -- is a priority for the company as it is the first time the brand is operating outside of Asia.
Ho said the integrated casino will put Cyprus on the world tourist map by attracting visitors from across the globe.
The consortium -- in which Melco has a 70.74-percent majority share -- has a 30-year license to build an integrated casino resort in the southern coastal town of Limassol, and set up four satellite casinos in other locations across the island.
These satellites should be operating by the end of June this year.
There have long been casinos in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only recognized by Ankara.
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 government's plans to stimulate the island's recovering economy, with the creation of 4,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent staff.
And a super casino is expected to add another 300,000 tourists annually, bolstering the already three million-plus arrivals.
Eurozone member Cyprus plunged into a financial crisis in 2013, leaving a number of its top banks insolvent and forcing it to negotiate painful bailouts with international creditors.
It has since recovered, after the imposition of harsh austerity measures in exchange for a loan of 10 billion euros (then $13 billion) from the International Monetary Fund and the EU.
The Cypriot economy grew by around four percent last year and a similar growth rate is expected for this year, buoyed by an anticipated increase in tourism revenue.
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