Casino city to rival Vegas? - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

TWO villages near the Slovak and Austrian borders are set to become the site of a casino city and amusement park to rival Las Vegas, if the plans of the mayors of Hegyeshalom and Bezenye turn out to be more than a pipe-dream.

The village of Bezenye in Gyôr-Moson-Sopron county is facing a declining population and falling tax revenues. Having looked far and wide for suitable development plans, the mayor, Mátyás Schmatovich, and his Hegyeshalom colleague Zoltán Vincze eventually settled on the casino plan when a foreign investor showed himself willing to get involved.

The Austrian businessman Hans Asamer was interested in the region because of its good location. Lying a stones throw from Vienna and Bratislava, the area has good connections with Budapest.

Vienna and Bratislava airports are less than half an hour away, and the area is on the main Budapest-Vienna rail line. Asamer plans to construct a casino with 25,000 gaming machines and luxury hotels with a total of 6,000 rooms.

Asamer, who has already brought the property, has handed 150 hectares of land to the Vienna company Lukale Investment & Development, who plan to build an amusement park next to the casino. Offering themed areas representing Vienna, the Alps, a "school for magicians", a medieval city and generous retail space, the theme park will also reckon on attracting guests for overnight stays in one of several luxury hotels.

The Lukale investment alone will cost Ft57bn ($282m) and provide work for 6,700 people in the region, although Vincze, the mayor of Hegyeshalom reckons that there will have to be immigration to the region to meet this demand.

There is, it is true, still a question mark over the viability of the project. According to Csaba Erdei of the Green Democrats, Lukale still does not have permission to start construction and no environmental study has been conducted. But the plan is not necessarily fantasy.

Preliminary discussions between the investors and electricity distributor MVM show that investors are taking the idea seriously. MVM has confirmed that it will be able to meet the power demands of such a huge investment.

The Green Democrats are keen to remain involved to make sure that the facilities will be environmentally friendly. He pronounced himself agnostic on whether any of these visions would ever come to pass. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," he said.

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