JERUSALEM, Oct. 6 (JTA) – As if Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s disparate coalition does not have enough issues to disagree on, he has added another – legalized gambling. Barak and Finance Minister Avraham Shochat announced Tuesday that they are considering opening casinos in the Negev Desert, saying legalized gambling in depressed areas in the region could create jobs and stimulate the economy. The decision was based on the recommendations of a committee that four years ago favored opening casinos in Israel. Advocates of the proposal are looking at the potential tax revenues from Israeli gamblers, who currently go across the Egyptian border to Taba, the West Bank town of Jericho or to illegal gambling houses in Israel. The idea encountered immediate opposition from some Cabinet members and lawmakers from across the political spectrum, who said they would establish a Knesset lobby to oppose any initiative to legalize gambling. Israel’s religious parties were particularly vehement in their opposition. Perhaps next “we’ll encourage prostitution and tax that business” as well, Health Minister Shlomo Benizri said Wednesday. Shochat in turn accused opponents of “burying their heads in the sand,” noting that tax revenues from supervised gambling in Israel could be directed for social spending. Proposed casino legislation was blocked in the previous Knesset, primarily by religious legislators.
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