The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

PN leader Simon Busuttil will not attend today’s opening of casino

Gabriel Schembri Friday, 12 February 2016, 09:15 Last update: about 5 years ago

Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil will not be attending today’s grand opening of the new casino at the Intercontinental Hotel, a Nationalist Party spokesperson confirmed with this newspaper.

The PN had previously heavily criticised the casino project over an alleged lack of transparency in the tendering process.

But when pressed on whether Dr Busuttil’s absence from this evening’s ceremony represented a boycott or mere logistical difficulties, the spokesperson said the party had no further comment to make on the matter.

Dr Busuttil had been billed as a special guest on invitations for tonight’s gala event, along with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, ministers and shadow ministers.

The Casino Malta, being inaugurated this evening, is the country’s largest casino.

Soon after the March 2013 election, the Labour government issued a call for expressions of interest in a new casino concession. The Eden Leisure Group had submitted an offer of 1.2 million, but three other companies had bid higher, with Dragonara Ltd having tabled the highest offer at 4.3 million.

By 2014, both Dragonara and Eden were shortlisted.  After meetings with a government technical committee, the government announced that Eden Leisure had been named the preferred bidder and an agreement between the government and Eden had been signed in December 2014. The government later said it would also allow another concession to Dragonara Ltd.

At the time the PN had harshly criticised what it said was a lack of transparency in the tendering process, and challenged Economy Minister Chris Cardona to explain why the highest bidder had not won the final tender.

Eden eventually filed a development application to transform the hotel’s basement into a casino and by November 2015 the company had started promoting a new casino in St Georges Bay.  Later, the Malta Gaming Authority claimed the promotional billboards were illegal.

A small controversy had arisen when the Malta Environment and Planning Authority questioned ongoing work at the site when a permit had not yet been issued, but later declared that the basement works were not illegal as there was no need for a permit for a change use of the premises.

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