BARCELONA, Spain — Laid-off businesspeople in designer clothes eating in soup kitchens. Young people flocking to study German in the hope of emigrating. Frantic regional governments battling to outdo each other to attract scant investment.
Spaniards are desperate.
Enter American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
The controversial owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and third-richest American wants to build a version of the Nevada gambling mecca in the outskirts of Madrid or Barcelona. A mega-resort dedicated to entertainment and business conferences, it would include 12 hotels, six casinos and three golf courses spread across 2,000 acres — the biggest urban development project in Spain since the 1992 Olympics.
The main hook: EuroVegas would create up to 250,000 jobs in a country where almost 6 million people, up to a quarter of the workforce, are unemployed.
At least that was the pitch until the projected number fell to 14,000 when the company’s directors visited Spain in June, when they also announced a drop in investment from $21 billion to $7.3 billion, two-thirds of which would have to come from Spanish banks.
Nevertheless, Spain’s two largest cities are lobbying hard against each other for the bid.
“EuroVegas is very important,” said Andreu Mas-Colell, economy minister for Catalonia, of which Barcelona is capital. “We are making the necessary efforts to bring it here.”
But despite the project’s attractiveness to officials, it's generating heated opposition from a growing number of critics who question its viability and criticize what they say would be its harm to society.
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Among the grassroots organizations to have joined the protest, "EuroVegas No" represents more than 30 unions and environmental NGOs, as well as the indignados movement that inspired the Occupy movement in New York.
“This project is based on the same economic model that delivered Spain into the crisis to begin with,” says the platform’s spokesperson Maria Fernandez, “speculation in construction and real estate.”
However, she is most unhappy about exceptions to dozens of laws and regulations that Adelson is believed to be demanding for his casinos. Adelson — who is the largest individual financial donor to Republican candidates in the US 2012 presidential campaign — has already opened resorts abroad in Singapore and on the Chinese island of Macao.
Las Vegas Sands has asked the Spanish government to ease labor, immigration and money laundering laws, give minors access to casinos and suspend the national smoking ban in enclosed public spaces, according to the newspapers