Armando Favaretto, the director general of Casinò Municipale di Venezia S.p.a, the company operating the Casinò Di Venezia in Vittoriosa, has declared that the casinò will be sold by the end of the year.
Although aware of “rumours” on the possible sale of the casino, the Maltese government was until yesterday not officially informed of the decision by the Italian company.
The decision to withdraw from Malta is a heavy blow to the much-vaunted Cottonera project.
The Italian investment in the casinò is the most significant foreign investment in Cottonera especially as regards revenue from taxation and the generation of employment.
The majority shareholder in the Casinò Municipale di Venezia S.p.a is the local government of Venice.
On 19th May 2005 the Mayor of this Italian city, Massimo Cacciari launched an ultimatum to the director of the Casinò di Venezia Armando Favaretto.
“The Maltese Casinò should either be sold or rented out. No casinò in the world loses 100,000 euro a month. With that sum of money I would prefer developing a nursery for children.”
In an interview published in yesterday’s edition of La Nouva Venezia, Armando Favaretto revealed that negotiations have already started with prospective buyers of the Casino.
Favaretto made no mention of the fact that according to Maltese law no transfer of ownership whether in part or in whole, can be conducted unless the Maltese Gaming Board is informed.
Favaretto mentioned the Slovenian Hit Casinò as a major bidder for buying the casinò. But he also mentioned a concern from London and a group composed of Maltese and Saudi businessmen who had also expressed interest in buying.
The Corriere del Veneto mentioned four societies interested in buying the casinò’.
Apart from Hit Casinò, the Corriere mentioned a Saudi, an Israeli and a Maltese concern.
“Our major aim in the sale is to recover the initial investment of 11 million Euros,” said Favaretto.
In the same interview Favaretto claimed that the Maltese casinò is making an annual loss of 1,300,000 Euros.
Favaretto also said that in selling the casinò the employment of the 75 employees working in the casinò would be safeguarded.
The Malta Financial and Business Times asked the Ministry responsible for urban development whether it was aware of the intention of Casinò Spa to sell the casinò.
The Ministry’s spokesman confirmed that “rumours that the Comune of Venice was intent on selling the Maltese operation had been circulating for a while, however the reports in the Italian press last week confirmed the story.”
However the Ministry’s spokesman added “selling the casino is not altogether straightforward since the prospective buyer has to be acceptable to the Lotteries and Gaming Authority.”
The Malta Financial and Business Times also asked the Ministry whether the Maltese government is involved in discussions with potential investors interested in buying the casinò.
“The Ministry for Urban Development and Roads has only been involved in discussions with the owners of the Casino in order to find a way how the development of a hotel on the site next to the Casino can proceed. The Minister has met Armando Favaretto, the director general on various occasions in order to discuss this project.”
Back in February 2002, a few months after the casinò opened, rumours on its possible sale were already circulating amidst allegations that a lawyer representing the Sicilian Mafia had offered to buy the casinò.
In August 2003 sister paper MaltaToday revealed that Forza Italia MEP Renato Brunetta had asked the European Commission to investigate a major transaction involving the sale of the holdings of the shares of Casinò Municipale di Venezia S.p.a in Vittoriosa Gaming Ltd.
The withdrawal of the Italian company from Malta marks the end of a far from successful foreign investment story.