More than 7,000 punters have visited southern Cyprus’ first legal casino since Melco International Development opened the doors on 28 June, but the footfall is less than expected.
“It has been a real rollercoaster ride... It’s been a bit of fun but it’s below expectations I have to say that. We’re not the only game in town and we never have been, never will be,” President Craig Ballantyne told Cyprus’ Sunday Mail.
Southern Cyprus's "C2" casino is competing with about 30 casinos in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, some of which offer free alcohol and tobacco.
“But they don’t have the same regulations as we do, so it’s not a level playing field,” Mr Ballantyne told the newspaper.
In May, Turkey began investigating 13 casinos in Northern Cyprus, part of a wider investigation into alleged money laundering and illegal betting.
Prosecutors in the southern city of Gaziantep ordered the confiscation of more than $100m in funds linked to suspected money launderers following a probe by the Board of Investigation on Financial Crimes. The Board said a number of casinos were involved in the transfer of large amounts of foreign currency.
Southern Cyprus casinos also face another challenge: advertising. Operators cannot run ads that encourage gambling.
Melco has stressed that it has a long-term strategy, however, so the early figures are not discouraging.
Melco’s C2 casino is in a temporary structure with 242 slot machines, 33 gaming tables and a floor space of 4,600-square-meters. Melco’s €550m ($647m) full-scale integrated resort is expected to open in 2021, offering a hotel and convention centre.