Lebanon’s struggling Casino du Liban denies coronavirus rumors


lebanon-casino-du-liban-coronavirus-rumorsLebanon’s only casino is pushing back against apparently malicious rumors that one of its customers tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, Casino du Liban, located about 22km north of Beirut in Maameltein, issued a statement denying online rumors that local television news channel Al Mayadeen had reported a coronavirus case at the casino. The channel confirmed that none of its websites had reported any such case.

Local media reported that the rumor started from a lone individual who used a social media platform to declare that “a new Corona case has been registered at the Casino du Liban and the Lebanese Red Cross is working on transmitting the critical condition to Rafic el Hariri’s hospital.”

Casino du Liban responded with a statement saying the individual was “spreading malicious rumors by broadcasting false news impersonating Al Mayadeen.” The statement said this action was “neither patriotic nor moral, and seeks to exploit the coronavirus to harm businesses.”

Casino du Liban can ill-afford the controversy. Last October, widespread anti-government protests resulted in major road closures, which chairman Roland Khoury claimed had “a catastrophic impact” on the casino’s operations. The casino was forced to close three of its gambling floors because most of its staff were unable to get to work.

Khoury said it was “very hard to persuade [international gamblers] to come to Lebanon under these circumstances.” The casino was also forced to cancel its planned 60th anniversary celebration, which was to feature concerts by international artists and a poker tournament.

Last November, Khoury told the Daily Star that the disruption had already cost the casino $12m over 20 days as daily revenue fell by 95% from normal levels. The casino made a modest profit of $6m in 2018 but Khoury warned that without a return to normalcy, “we will be heading for big losses” in 2019.

Since the protests have never let up, it’s unclear what financial horrors Casino du Liban may be experiencing but the overall Lebanese economy is in big trouble. This weekend, both Moody’s and S&P Global Ratings downgraded the country’s long-term foreign currency rating, while government officials are publicly mulling a debt restructuring.

Casino du Liban is majority owned by a company controlled by the government, which could face pressure to privatize the casino to raise some quick cash. The casino’s gaming business is managed by London Clubs International, an offshoot of US casino operator Caesars Entertainment. The crisis could also accelerate Casino du Liban’s long-stalled plans to launch online gambling operations.

Earlier this month, Lebanese authorities issued an arrest warrant for Hamid Kreidi, Casino du Liban’s former chairman, on charges of corruption and financial crime. Kreidi, who was replaced by Khoury in April 2017, is reportedly based in Switzerland.