Gambling off Coast of Eilat Hits Jackpot, Despite Accident

Egyptian-owned gambling ships are earning as much as a million dollars a day in Israeli waters, and their number is increasing, despite a bad accident Sunday in the Gulf of Eilat.

Two launches carrying gamblers to a floating casino off Eilat collided, hurling five people into the water. All were rescued, though one was badly injured.

The mishap did not deter the Israeli authorities from allowing the Egyptian company to position another gambling ship, the Sea Princess, in the Mediterranean.

The Transport Ministry gave the green light Starting next week, the ship will cruise back and forth between Tel Aviv and Ashdod while its passengers play games of chance.

Ezra Tisona, who manages the casino, said the vessel has been outfitted with every luxury and can carry 600 people.

At a meeting last week, Tisona assured Interior Ministry and police officials that the Sea Princess will be operated to the same standards as the floating casinos off Eilat.

Six gambling ships are currently operating off Eilat and two more are being readied for what has proven to be a lucrative business.

The cost of outfitting a vessel for gambling is about $1 million, which is usually recouped in a week.

During the Passover holidays, the estimated income of each Eilat ship was $1milion a day.

“The Treasury would like a share. Avraham Tsarfati, a senior income tax official, said his office is looking for ways to tax the ships, even though they are registered in Egypt.

“The land of registration is of no importance, since the source of income is Israeli,” Tsarfati said.

But not all officials are pleased with the gambling activity. At a meeting Sunday of the Eilat City Council, the Interior Ministry, the police and the Treasury were criticized for allowing it.

One council member, Sima Namir, said several Eilat families were “ruined” by the gambling ships.

Their presence siphons off money that Israeli and foreign visitors might have spent in Eilat, which lives off tourism.

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