News | Sunday, 31 January 2010

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Dragonara finalists could make way for ‘late entrant’

Two bidders for the 10-year concession for the Dragonara casino have been recommended by the Malta Investment Management Company (Mimcol), for a final selection round.
MaltaToday is informed that Tomino, the casino company owned by the Tumas Group, and Novomatic Peninsula, the consortium made up of gaming multinational Novomatic and Maltese firm Pinnacle Gaming, will be asked to resubmit their bids for a final decision that will be based on purely financial offers.
Sources say it might not be over for the other bidder Accor-Barriére, the current Dragonara licensee. A request by government has been to the Attorney General to consider the eventual inclusion of Accor in what should be a three-horse race.
The gaming industry is still grappling with a major shutdown of gambling halls, ordered by the finance ministry on 6 August 2009, just a week before tendering closed on the Dragonara concession.
The clampdown shifted at least 30% of business back into casinos.
Additionally, Mimcol was expected to announce its preferred bidders back in September and sign a new concession in November 2009.
When press reports revealed Finance Minister Tonio Fenech had travelled with Tumas chairman George Fenech aboard his private jet to watch a Champions’ League match in Spain, questions were raised over the motivations of the clampdown on the gambling halls.
If the final decision on the Dragonara concession is based on all three bidders, the government is expected to circumvent any unnecessary flak over Tonio Fenech’s relationship with the Tumas chairman.
The Tumas Group is already set for an aggressive takeover of the casino industry if it secures the Dragonara concession, which would make it the owner of 90% of the island’s casino business.
Tomino’s two casinos, the Oracle and Portomaso, have 49% of the €20 million-a-year industry, while Accor accounts for just over 40% of market share. The Venice municipality owns the Vittoriosa casino, with just 10% of share.
Tomino had bolstered its dominance thanks to a special ‘two-for-one’ gaming licence that covers both the Oracle and Portomaso casinos. The split-licence had been devised first by Finance Minister John Dalli in 2004 and then granted in 2006 with Lawrence Gonzi as finance minister.


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