Casino manager-cum-MK Hazan shuns Eilat gaming plan

Scandal-ridden Likud legislator cites ethical concerns in opposing Netanyahu-backed scheme to allow legalized gambling in resort town

Likud MK Oren Hazan on May 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud MK Oren Hazan on May 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Likud MK Oren Hazan on Thursday joined the growing number of lawmakers opposing the government’s intention to allow casinos in the southern resort city of Eilat, despite himself being a veteran of the gaming industry.

Hazan, who managed a hotel-casino in the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas until 2013, came out against the initiative, citing ethical concerns in an interview with Israel Radio.

The 34-year-old freshman lawmaker argued that legalizing casino gambling in Israel would destroy families and hurt the poorest members of society.

Hazan, who has proposed legislation requiring a percentage of gambling proceeds to go toward anti-addiction measures, noted in the interview that a gambling addiction is a serious condition. Israel currently has state-run gambling on sports, horse racing and lottery games.

Hazan was at the center of a number of scandals this past year after television exposés accused him of sexual assault, soliciting prostitutes and using crystal meth when he managed the Burgas casino.

An investigative report by Channel 2 last year quoted hotel guests, Hazan’s driver and a local madam who all recalled Hazan bringing the women to the Burgas casino. Other guests recall doing crystal meth on the street with Hazan.

Likud MK Oren Hazan in his casino manager days (Screen capture: Channel 2)
Likud MK Oren Hazan in his casino manager days (Screen capture: Channel 2)

Hazan denied the allegations and threatened to sue reporter Amit Segal for libel, but the report prompted Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to block Hazan, a deputy speaker, from presiding over any Knesset meetings “until further notice.”

The freshman lawmaker’s lack of diplomacy and uncouth behavior have resulted in public scrutiny over various reports of wrongdoing, including when he was roundly criticized for mocking a disabled fellow MK during a plenum session in December.

Days later, a state comptroller report on party spending during primary campaigns said Hazan failed to report his expenditure and accused him of lying in an affidavit declaring his expenses, a crime that can carry up to a three-year custodial sentence.

Following a series of complaints leveled against him, Hazan was suspended for a month from parliamentary and committee debates.

In opposing the plan proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hazan joined lawmakers from as far afield as Meretz, Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, Jewish Home and the Joint (Arab) List and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties.

Netanyahu has been a staunch advocate of introducing casinos to the Red Sea city, and claimed Wednesday that the move was going to be “Eilat’s lifesaver.”

The casinos will “save the city of Eilat from economic failure and create thousands of jobs,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Wednesday.

Although casino gambling in Israel is illegal, some Israelis take cruises from Eilat on casino boats outside the country’s territorial waters to gamble. Operators of the casino boats have been accused of organizing illegal gambling, money laundering and tax offenses.

Eilat’s tourism industry has shrunk by 40 percent in the last five years, officials on Wednesday said. If the plan goes through, Israel can expect to make NIS 450 million ($115 million) a year in tax revenue, according to a Channel 2 report.

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