Europe’s largest gaming resort, the City of Dreams Mediterranean, is emerging from bulldozed vineyards and lemon groves on Cyprus’ southern coast. Hong Kong gambling giant Melco has a grand vision for its first casino in the European Union, which looks like an Inca temple facing out to sea, near Limassol. With 14 floors, three swimming pools, nine restaurants and cafes and a “family adventure park”, it “will be the largest integrated casino resort in Europe”, said Grant Johnson, the American tasked with delivering the dream, “with 1,000 slot machines and 100 gaming tables”. But its arrival could lead to new rivalries on the island – divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded following a Greek-sponsored coup – where the breakaway north is already home to no less than 34 casinos. Gambling is an economic lifeline for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is recognised only by Türkiye. The overwhelmingly Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus in the south already has four casinos, all operated but not owned by Melco. But the government in Nicosia hopes the gigantic City of Dreams Mediterranean will put the island in another league, attracting 300,000 more visitors a year, including free-spending high rollers. Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for a crucial 15 per cent of the south’s GDP. Melco already has thriving City of Dreams casinos in Macau and Manila, in the Philippines, but so far it has been dealt a string of bad hands in Cyprus. The pandemic delayed the opening, which is now set for the end of the year. Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent EU sanctions and travel bans on Moscow. Indonesia woos digital nomads with 5-year remote working visa Melco had been banking on Russians – who normally account for a fifth of Cyprus’s tourists – being some of its best customers. Despite the setbacks, Melco aims to break the north’s near-total stranglehold on the Cyprus casino sector. Experts, however, are warning of the danger of money laundering. Once City of Dreams Mediterranean opens the island will be “in a rather exceptional situation” of having gamblers and their money flowing in “potentially from Asia, but also from Türkiye, Russia, Europe and the Middle East”, said Marie Redon, a specialist in the sector at Sorbonne Paris North University, in France, increasing the potential for illegality. The more the cash “comes from different places, the more it circulates, there is a greater chance of things like money laundering”, Redon warned. “Casinos are a sensitive subject” on the island, said a Greek-Cypriot anti-money-laundering specialist who asked to remain anonymous. “I am very careful when I talk about it because you can get problems.” Casinos were not legalised in Cyprus until 2015. The powerful Greek Orthodox church had opposed them, and leftist former president Demetris Christofias feared they would bring “corruption”. But after the near-collapse of the Cypriot banking system in 2013 – the same year Christofias left office – “we had big names approaching the government and it decided the opportunity was too great not to take”, said the source, who works in the banking sector. “The problem is we are not ready to deal with what goes hand in hand with casinos: the underground economy and money laundering. We can’t choose to close our eyes. It could cost us dear as we are members of the EU. We can’t do like the north does.” But the Cypriot finance ministry strongly disputes this, saying that “the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing is a challenging and continuous process” and that “the authorities are working continuously … and minimising risks”. It adds that international assessments found “a robust framework is being implemented”.