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CORRECTION: $Strategy Opening Gaming to Foreign Investment Adopted$

Ljubljana, 16 December (STA) - Please note that the new gaming strategy does not need to be confirmed in parliament as stated in Thursday's copy. The corrected article follows below.

Strategy Opening Gaming to Foreign Investment Adopted

The cabinet confirmed a new gaming strategy that will enable foreigners to invest in mega gaming centres and provide tax breaks for investment in tourism infrastructure on Thursday.

In announcing the draft strategy, Finance Minister Franc Krizanic said that the document seeks to build on gaming as a branch of tourism.

Indeed, under the strategy gaming tax will be regressive, proportionate to how much casino operators invest in tourism.

This way the government will provide an incentive for a new investment cycle in Slovenian tourism, said Krizanic.

The minister said that the government had left the door open to full deregulation of ownership in gaming, but that it will leave that decision to the National Assembly.

"There are strong ideas for complete ownership deregulation, such as that in place in the US, while we can also keep a more European model - most European countries retain a share of public ownership in casinos."

The government's proposal distinguishes between four categories of gaming establishments: mega entertainment centre, gaming and entertainment centre, grand casino and casino. Small gaming parlours will continue to operate, but their number will be reduced.

Entertainment centres and grand casinos will remain in majority ownership of the state and local communities, but the 20% cap on common stock holdings by individual private shareholders will be abolished.

Major investors will be able to take stakes in mega entertainment centres (defined as having at least 100 playing tables, 2,000 slot machines and 1,000 rooms), even majority stakes.

If the state's stake in such ventures is reduced below 51%, additional safeguards would be put in place in the form of licences for management and other senior staff at the casino operator.

Ownership of casinos and gaming parlours will be completely liberalised.

However, the state will retain ownership in lottery operators, Loterija Slovenije (which operates Lotto) and Sportna loterija (the sports betting operator).

The strategy also determines that gaming will be developed in defined locales that include Nova Gorica, Sezana, Lipica, Portoroz and Kranjska Gora, tourist towns which are already home to large casinos.

Moreover, the gaming tax and concession will be merged into a single tax.

The National Assembly is expected to pass amendments to the gaming act in the first half of next year. Krizanic expects that the changes will lead to a new investment cycle in gaming and tourism in Slovenia.

He stressed that more than being aimed at domestic tourists, such investments are expected to attract tourists from abroad.

The finalisation of the strategy has coincided with reports in the Slovenian media that US company Ceasar's Entertainment (formerly Harrah's) is again eying a partnership with Slovenia's biggest gaming chain, HIT.

The key provisions of the strategy - lower state ownership and tax breaks - are what Harrah's had demanded when it sought to build a casino resort with HIT several years ago.

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