Coalition and opposition lawmakers spoke out Wednesday against the government’s initiative to allow the construction of casinos for tourists in the southern city of Eilat.
Objections were heard from lawmakers from as far afield as Meretz, Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, Jewish Home and the Arab Joint List, together with the Haredi parties, to a plan Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first proposed last September.
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.
Channel 2 News reported that if the plan for casinos in Eilat is successful, Israel can expect to make NIS 450 million ($115 million) a year in tax revenue.
Gambling is not legal in Israel, so approving the opening of casinos in Eilat, even under the government’s proposal to restrict entry to tourists alone, would require the Knesset to amend existing legislation.
But an early count by Channel 2 of lawmakers who publicly expressed opposition to the plan suggested the nays had a majority in parliament.
“Israel is not and will not be Las Vegas,” Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home party, wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday. He told Channel 2: “It’s not going to happen.”
Meretz leader Zehava Galon said that “the government is thinking only of the revenue it can make, while casting the citizens of Eilat by the wayside.” Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas said in a statement that “casinos will only serve the tycoons and severely hurt the weaker sectors.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the Likud lawmaker appointed by Netanyahu to head a steering committee on the plan, slammed Bennett’s statement.
“Jewish Home ignores the extent of illegal gambling in Israel while not offering a viable solution to Eilat’s economic plight,” Levin said.
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