Official: Israel interested in Las Vegas-style casino in Negev Desert

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval held discussions with Israel’s political leaders about introducing gaming to the Jewish state, which is considering the idea, the country’s consul general said Thursday.

The discussions took place when Sandoval visited Israel in October as part of a trade mission to diversify Nevada’s economy. About 50 business leaders accompanied Sandoval and focused on opportunities involving water conservation, high-tech industries and the emerging drone aircraft sector.

But David Siegel, the Los Angeles-based consul general, said Sandoval brought up gaming when he met with Israel’s leaders. Sandoval met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Siegel, speaking to the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, said discussion of gaming that could benefit Israeli tourism is in the preliminary stages only.

“I think it’s an area of interest,” Siegel said. “It’s not in the tangible phase yet, but it’s something that we’re looking at.”

Siegel said a town in the heart of the Negev Desert could be a potential casino site. The government recently built a luxury hotel, The Beresheet Hotel, in Mitzpe Ramon, about 50 miles south of Beersheba. The town is at the edge of the largest crater on Earth, 25 miles long, five miles wide and 1,300 feet deep. The desert town is a developing tourism mecca. The area is about a two-hour drive from Tel Aviv.

Siegel said Israel could use Nevada’s knowledge of how to “build cities in the desert” as the Negev accounts for 60 percent of Israel’s land mass but holds only 8 percent of the country’s population.

“We can benefit from your expertise,” Siegel said. “Gaming could add to our tourism.”

Before Nevada legalized gambling in the 1930s, Las Vegas was a near-empty desert town with a population of about 5,000. Now, the city hosts 40 million visitors a year, and gaming funds one-fifth of the state budget.

The Silver State already has many ties to Israel, Siegel said.

Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s CEO, is a major benefactor of the Jewish state and owns its largest newspaper. Siegel said he didn’t know whether Adelson is considering opening any gaming properties in Israel.

“Mr. Adelson is a huge figure in the Jewish world,” Siegel said. “He’s a very well-known and deeply valued businessman.”

Sands spokesman Ron Reese said Thursday the company isn’t developing any casino properties in Israel at the moment. “The company’s not currently actively involved in pursuing gaming opportunities in Israel,” Reese said.

Any gaming development would have to overcome many hurdles in Israel, where there are multiple political parties and business interests in play.

Siegel said Sandoval’s trade mission focused on ways Israel and Nevada can partner in business enterprises and academic research and development.

The mission resulted in strengthening the partnership between Nevada’s renown Desert Research Institute and Israel’s Mekorot water company, according to Siegel. Another company, Ormat Technologies, Inc., is partnering with Nevada on geothermal projects, he added.

Israel is the world’s top water recycling country, with 80 percent of its drinking water coming from its six desalination plants and other facilities, he said. Nevada also has water-use challenges and could benefit from Israel’s research, he said.

Nevada and Israel also can work together on high-tech business, biotechnology, agriculture, medical technology, cyber security and drones, or unmanned vehicles, he said.

“It’s amazing how similar we are,” Siegel said of Nevada and Israel. “We have a natural relationship.”

Sandoval said this week that Nevada has submitted a competitive application to be selected by the FAA as one of six aerial drone testing sites across the country. Israel is one of the top drone developers in the world, Siegel said.

Last year, Nevada exports to Israel totaled $129 million. The state imported $144 million from Israel, the state’s 10th- largest export-import country.

Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.

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