Israel’s finance minister pushes back against Netanyahu’s Eilat casino plans

israel-finance-minister-casino-oppositionIsrael’s push to authorize its first brick-and-mortar casinos isn’t sitting well with the government’s coalition partners, who also have a bone to pick with slot machines and horse racing.

In February, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu authorized his Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin to study the possibility of building up to four casinos in the coastal city of Eilat. Last week, Levin met with other officials to discuss the nitty gritty of casino operation, including limitations on local residents’ use of the planned casino(s).

Those plans were publicly slammed on Monday by Moshe Kahlon (pictured), Netanyahu’s Minister of Finance. Kahlon used to belong to Netanyahu’s Likud party, but now leads the centrist Kulanu political party, which holds 10 seats in Netanyahu’s 61-seat governing coalition in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset, so it’s complicated.

An angry Kahlon told a press conference that Israel “does not need casinos. It needs to provide education, values and jobs – not a casino.” While Kahlon has long been known to oppose casino authorization, this is the first time he has publicly expressed these views.

Kahlon pointed out that his ministry had recently begun cracking down on the presence of slot machines in the shops of local lottery monopoly Mifal Hapayis. There are 150 shops that offer slots and, like the fixed-odds betting terminals in UK betting shops, the Israeli machines have come under fire for their alleged tendency to congregate in shops located in poorer neighborhoods.

Mifal Hapayis requires slots users to purchase prepaid cards that can be loaded with up to 50 shekels (US $13) but there are no limits on the number of cards a customer can purchase. Last month, a report in Haaretz claimed that Mifal Hapayis derived 9% of its annual revenue from slots but between one-quarter and one-third of its profits.

Kahlon said his ministry last week “decided to put an end to slot machines and horse races – gambling activities that ruin families.” Kahlon said the slots issue had been “talked about for years and we decided to take action; soon we’ll remove them, and Mifal Hapayis can scrap them as far as I’m concerned.”