The Dragonara Casino could be replaced by a new operation after the government decided not to extend its 10-year concession and instead issue a fresh call for proposals.

The government’s Privatisation Unit announced on Wednesday that it was accepting bids from parties interested in operating an €11 million casino from one of the island’s designated tourist zones.

Malta currently has four licensed casinos – the Dragonara Casino, Portomaso Casino, Casino Malta and the Oracle Casino.

The announcement of a new concession does not mean that Malta will be getting a fifth casino, however.

Times of Malta is informed that the active concession held by the Dragonara Casino, housed in the historic Dragonara Palace in St Julians, is set to draw to a close later this year.

Malta has four casinos today and will still have four casinos when this new concession is awarded

Government sources said that rather than extend the Dragonara concession, a decision had been taken to issue a fresh call for proposals. 

“Malta has four casinos today and will still have four casinos when this new concession is awarded,” a senior source said. 

It is not clear if Dragonara Gaming Limited, the company that operates the casino, will apply for the new concession and compete with any other bidders. Times of Malta contacted the casino for comment via e-mail.

The Dragonara casino operation hit the headlines two years ago when the decade-long lease on the Paceville prime real estate housing the casino was extended for a further 64 years. 

Then economy minister Chris Cardona presented a motion in parliament for Dragonara Gaming Limited to be given a 64-year lease extension until 2083. It was approved by the house in 2019.

At the time, Times of Malta reported that the government had sought legal advice after it feared the controversial agreement could expose Malta to legal action from Brussels for possibly violating competition laws.

Rival casino owners had also expressed their shock at the decision to extend the lease on the government-owned land and questioned if it was in breach of EU state aid rules.

Meanwhile, the Request For Proposal for the new concession announced in this week’s The Government Gazette comes with an €11 million price tag, payable over three years in three equal payments. 

At a minimum, the casino application must include 225 gaming devices and 15 gaming tables, and they may choose to locate their operation in a list of tourist areas identified by the Malta Tourism Authority.

The project, however, cannot be situated on Gozo or Comino. 

Bids must be submitted by hand to the Privatisation Unit by not later than April 7, 2021.

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