The owners of the Dragonara Casino in Paceville will be granted a 64-year extension on their lease of the building, according to a motion approved unanimously by Parliament.
Economy Minister Chris Cardona proposed the motion this morning.
Dragonara Gaming Ltd, which is owned by the Bianchi family business group and Johann Schembri, was granted a ten-year concession to operate the casino back in 2010. The company was given the building after winning a public tender, beating off competition from a company owned by the Tumas Group and another one owned by a consortium of businesses which had originally owned the casino.
Now Cardona has officially proposed granting the casino’s owners a 64-year extension of its concession without issuing a second public tender. According to his motion, this is in line with the terms of the original contract, which allowed for the contract to be extended.
The minister didn’t specify how much the owners will have to pay to lease the land or what conditions they will be bound by, other than that it will invest millions of euro in works, including in restoration and conservation, and that it has committed to retaining all Casma Ltd employees under a secondment agreement.
He added that a draft contract will be tabled in Parliament.
His motion argues that the Dragonara Casino owners went above and beyond the terms of their concession, in which they pledged to invest €12.7 million over ten years.
“Dragonara Gaming Ltd has so far invested €17 million, which is more than what the contract had obliged them to invest and which is ahead of the specified timeframes.”
“Besides this investment, Dragonara Gaming Ltd has conducted continuous maintenance and repair works on the property, all at its own cost, which is extraordinary considering the building is surrounded by sea and exposed to the elements.”
“Dragonara Gaming Ltd recently asked Casma Ltd [the government-owned company which owns the casino] into acquiring this building on a temporary emphyteusis until March 2083.
“Casma entered into discussions with Dragonara Gaming Ltd through the privatisation unit of the Ministry of the Economy, which conducted the necessary scrutiny, and negotiated the terms and conditions of the proposed transfer, as is stipulated in the draft contract which is being tabled along with this resolution.”
“Since this involves the transfer of property for 64 years, Parliament should be given a chance to scrutinise it, discuss it and pass a resolution on this proposed transfer. The resolution will be communicated to Casma Ltd, which will act according to what the House has ruled.”
Cardona said he was under no obligation to present the motion to Parliament as the land in question isn’t owned by the central government or the Lands Authority.
“This notwithstanding, the minister felt that it was appropriate for the sake of transparency to present a motion in front of the House of Representatives for its scrutiny of the proposed transaction,” a statement read.
The Dragonara Casino, one of St Julians’ most recognizable buildings, is located on Dragonara Point in a palace which formerly served as a summer residence for a Maltese marquis.
It became Malta’s first casino in 1964 and was owned by the Malta Development Consortium, the predecessor of Malta Enterprise, which passed the title on to Casma Ltd in 1990 under a temporary emphyteusis. It was privatised in 1999, with Casma Ltd leasing the building to the Dragonara Casino Ltd consortium for ten years. When this lease expired in 2010, another public tender was issued and the casino changed hands to its current owners.
Cover photo: Dragonara Casino