PP will soon have to clear smoke on whether it will change tobacco law
Madrid government wants smoking ban lifted to attract EuroVegas cash cow
The battle for EuroVegas has become a smoky matter for the Popular Party (PP) government. The issue over whether to change the tobacco laws, to allow casino patrons to light up at the slot machines, is putting many PP members in uncomfortable positions, and will eventually force the national government to decide on whether smokers should indeed have certain rights.
On a second front, restaurant and nightclub owners, who have been against the smoking law since it went into effect on January 2, 2011, say that if Las Vegas Sands Corporation CEO Sheldon Adelson gets his way for his patrons, they want the same treatment from the Madrid regional government.
And they could get it.
Ignacio González, the Madrid deputy regional premier, told reporters during a news conference on Thursday that if tobacco is sold legally, citizens should be free to smoke all they want and businesses should be allowed to provide them with smoking areas.
His comments come on the heels of controversial remarks by his boss, Esperanza Aguirre, who said Wednesday morning that "evidently, the smoking ban will be changed" to accommodate the EuroVegas project.
González explained that the Madrid PP government was always against the anti-smoking law introduced by the previous Socialist administration of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a prohibition he called "cynical."
"If you believe tobacco is an absolutely negative thing, you have to ban its sale. What you can't do is have it both ways," he said.
After assuring reporters on Wednesday that there were no plans to modify the nationwide ban, Health Minister Ana Mato has now left the matter open to discussion. "I never close the door to any issue. I am always open to dialogue. I think the most important thing is to talk about issues, and listen to the arguments," she said in Congress on Thursday.
During his campaign last year, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy suggested he was willing to modify or even rescind the law, to allow smokers to light up in public places. The remarks were published alongside a photograph of the PP leader enjoying a cigar. But by January he said the law would stand as it was.
Now comes EuroVegas and the chances for either Madrid or Barcelona to host the potentially lucrative tourism project: a huge development of casinos, hotels and convention centers that is likely to be a boost for whichever local economy wins out.
Adelson, whose idea is to build his dream resort facility on Spanish land, wants the government to change certain laws, including some tax codes and the smoking prohibition.
In Barcelona, the regional government says it is willing to introduce "a special law" to assist the casino operators but when asked about it on Monday spokesman Francesc Homs didn't want to give any details.
It would be similar to what the regional government introduced to help in the development of PortAventura theme park during the early 1990s. "There were a lot of people who were opposed to PortAventura, and now no one says anything," Holm said.
But the anti-smoking law has been a key issue in the battle for EuroVegas in Madrid.
"We are seeing Mrs Aguirre getting more ridiculous each day," said Tomás Gómez, leader of the Madrid Socialist Party (PSM), who is against the entire EuroVegas project. "Now she is challenging her own government [with the smoking law].
"Mr Adelson came, promising to bring a lot of money from the United States. But what he has ended up doing is asking for loans from our banks, which instead should be financing Spanish businesses and helping Spanish families obtain credits."
Michael Leven, operations director for Las Vegas Sands, said he met with the representatives of about 40 Spanish banks in New York last week to see about obtaining help with financing.