One of the more notable economic casualties of the violence in the Palestinian territories is the Oasis Casino in Jericho. Although it remained open for the first three weeks of the crisis, the decision of the Israeli army to close the access road from the Dead Sea to the casino forced its management to reluctantly suspend activity at the facility. A spokesperson told Albawaba.com that it would begin operating again when the access road is reopened.
Only last night, an Israeli tank shelled the Palestinian casino causing extensive damage to the building's top floor offices. The tank attack, according to Israeli army sources, was a retaliation for Palestinian gunfire aimed at the Jewish Vered Jericho settlement. This was the first time Israel has caused serious damage to the casino, having fired at buildings near the facility, and once shot at the casino itself in past weeks.
Since it first opened in September 1998, the casino has been one of the more unusual fruits of the political process involving the Israelis and the Palestinians. For while the Oasis has operated in an area under the full security and administrative control of the Palestinian Authority, close to 95 percent of its patrons are Israeli. Palestinians, on the other hand, are prohibited by the Palestinian Authority from frequenting its gaming halls.
It should be noted that, other than a state-operated lottery and football pool, legalized gambling does not exist in Israel. But gambling is a popular past time among Israelis, and for years they flocked to the casino at the Taba Hilton, on Egypt's Sinai coast. Turkey also was a popular destination for Israeli gamblers, before its casinos were closed by the country's previous, Islamic government. So, clearly, when the Oasis was planned in Jericho, it was intended to draw patrons from the major Israeli population centers, some of which are less than an hour's drive away.
And it managed to do just that. Despite attempts by religious right-wing Israeli politicians to ban Israelis from the casino, and a veiled threat by the Israeli attorney general that they could face prosecution if they do so, Israelis flocked to Jericho in their multitudes. The casino spokesperson said that prior to the facility's recent closure, 2,500 patrons were hosted each day, with the overwhelming majority being Israeli.
Indeed, so powerful has the draw of the casino been that, even during times of tension, business at the Oasis continued unabated. Neither warnings by the Israeli army to its country's citizens that they should not enter areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, nor the scenes of violence which typified the start of the current uprising, stopped gamblers from making their way to Jericho. Only when the army physically closed the main road and other access points did the flow come to a halt.
Since the closure, there have been reports of shooting incidents in the vicinity of the casino. Israeli army representatives complained that shots had been fired at its forces from the facility itself. This was denied by the casino spokesperson, who told Albawaba.com that the Oasis has its own, independent security staff who could ensure that no hostile fire emanated from its grounds. However, the spokesperson added, the casino itself was hit by bullets, apparently fired by Israeli soldiers, and it sustained a certain degree of damage.
The Oasis Casino, which cost $50 million to build, is owned and operated by Casinos Austria International (CAI). Worldwide, CAI also operates casinos in Australia, Egypt, Canada, South Africa, and Argentina, and on board cruise ships. It is the largest private employer in the Palestinian Authority, with 800 Palestinian employees and 285 expatriates from 29 countries.
Despite the casino's closure, CAI is likely to wait patiently for the situation in the area to calm down, at which point it will be reopen the facility. This is because the Oasis is a proven money spinner. In 1999, its first full year of operation, it was largely given credit for CAI's net profit rising to $11.2 million, from the $5 million that was registered in 1998.
The Oasis is part of a much larger resort facility that CAI is building in Jericho. On July 10, 2000, an Inter-Continental Hotel opened directly adjacent to the casino. Also owned by CAI, the five-star hotel has 181 deluxe rooms including junior and presidential suites. It also offers a fully equipped business center, a fitness center, tennis courts, an indoor squash court and three outdoor swimming pools, one containing natural mineral water from the nearby Dead Sea. Also on the drawing board are plans for an 18-hole golf course. — (Albawaba-MEBG)
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