Barcelona and Madrid have always been rivals, and not only when it comes to football. Now, the two Spanish cities are competing for Eurovegas, Europe's biggest entertainment resort that is supposed to create plenty of well needed jobs in Spain, where the unemployment rate is skyrocketing. But will Las Vegas' business magnate Sheldon Adelson's project really help fight the crisis in Spain or make matters worth? It looks like a big gamble to me, and clearly not everyone is happy.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Barcelona earlier this week, to protest against Eurovegas during the visit of the representatives of Las Vegas Sands who came to negotiate with Barcelona. The same happened in Madrid last month when Mr Adelson visited the capital. Moreover, plenty of campaigns have been launched by civil action groups to protest against the project, such as Eurovegas No for Barcelona, Detengamos EuroVegas for Madrid and Change.org where over 16.600 people signed the petition against Eurovegas so far. The reasons against this uproar are pretty obvious once you think about it.
On one hand this Vegas-style casino complex offers to the chosen city the “employment's jackpot: EuroVegas, it is claimed, will create up to 250,000 new jobs”, according to the Independent. At a time where Spain's unemployment rate is over 24%, this is a tempting offer. On the other hand, I think Spain can do better than becoming a nation of waiters, cleaners and prostitutes. Prostitution itself is not directly addressed in the Criminal Code of Spain although pimping is illegal. It is rumored that other, less fitting laws can be modified to please the project, just as “Madrid pledges to overturn smoking ban to attract €17bn EuroVegas casino” according to The Guardian yesterday.
Adding to the social and ethical dilemma is the environmental impact of such a colossal undertaking that will need 36.000 hotel rooms and 18.000 slot machines. Eurovegas clearly has development needs such as bigger airports, roads, electricity consumption, etc., although it is unclear what they are and what the environmental damage would be. The area where Eurovegas would be build in Barcelona, the Llobregat Delta, is not a desert, but agricultural land where hundreds of people currently grow vegetables for the city and beyond. A small part, some 900 hectares near the Llobregat river, has been declared a special protection area for wild birds by the EU, of which part would end up replaced by casinos.
The Llobregat Delta is famous for producing artichokes and the “pota blava” chicken. Both have a 100 year history and have recently obtained the quality distinctive European Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which they would loose should farmers be forced to grow their crop elsewhere. World-famous Catalan chef Ferran Adría is in favor of Eurovegas and, according to La Vanguardia, suggested that future restaurants and bars at the gambling complex should be inspired by Catalan food and also local, more exotic, restaurants. His vision of Eurovegas includes organic vegetable gardens and sustainable products- we can only hope that Mr. Adelson listened to him and didn't just enjoy his food. And maybe it would be possible to create a kind of green Las Vegas for eco-gambling but so far there is no mentioning anywhere of this project wanting to protect the environment, rather the opposite.
It is difficult to get a good understanding of the Eurovegas project due to lack of information, but it seems to me that Spain can do better than casinos, and should learn from the mistakes of the construction boom in previous years to not further destroy its heritage. If creating more entertainment is the solution to the crisis, why not build a visitor attraction like the Eden Project in Cornwall? (Yes I know... I guess we all know the answer to that!) For now, Madrid and Barcelona are waiting to see which city Mr Vegas will choose and if they can the money together to build the project. We will know more in September.