TALLINN - Estonia has over 1,500 islands. But for the Centrist Party-dominated Tallinn City Council, this is apparently not enough.
The city government was ordered by the council on Feb. 7 to form a commission that will investigate building a man-made island in Paljasaare Bay.
If completed, all casinos currently operating in Tallinn city limits will be required to relocate to the offshore gambler's paradise.
The commission has three months to determine the viability of such a mentally and materially ambitious project.
Previously use of the natural islands of Aegna and Naissaar was suggested; however, environmental concerns have pushed supporters of the bill to become more creative in their mission to rid the downtown area of gambling.
Dumping tons of building material and increasing traffic in the gulf may also have its own environmental impact, which is also being studied.
The Ministry of the Environment declined to comment on the situation before results are obtained and analyzed in the project's environmental impact assessment report.
Mart Sults, Tallinn City Council member and driving force behind the project, believes that, in addition to the socially positive effects, the existence of such an island would itself be a tourist magnet for the city.
"Casinos as family-hostile institutions must be situated as far as possible from Estonian residents and at the same time many valuable properties in Tallinn would be freed for more noble purposes," Sults told the Baltic News Service.
Gaming organizations are not happy about the project, particularly since they will have to bear the brunt of the costs.
"Considering its area, Estonia has very many islands. That's why we do not see any particular reason to build an artificial island. Although it may be a good idea for our neighbor Latvia, which has no islands," said Tonis Ruutel, managing director of the Estonian Association of Gambling Operations.
"Fortunately, Estonia has many scenic islands, so at the moment there is no need to spend anyone's money to take more land from the sea," he said.
"We have never deemed the thought of a man-made island to be well advised. In all developing areas where gambling is legal, [casinos] add to the attraction of the city center as a tourist destination," said Ruutel.
The association, which represents all casinos operating in Estonia, has not yet been consulted or included in any of the proceedings.
Ruutel remains confident that little will come out of the current hubbub taking place.
"We are of the opinion that above all taxpayers, as well as entrepreneurs, are certain to do something more practical with their money. So we believe that the subject is limited to mere political clamor," said Ruutel.
Such islands are common in several East Asian countries as well as in areas with high populations and severe shortages of developable urban land. Currently, there are over 80 existing artificial islands used for various purposes in over 20 countries worldwide.
The commission will not only focus on the anti-casino project in their research but will explore the possibility of other building projects extending into the sea. Consequences of shifting the sea shore further out in order to uncover submarine real estate will be thoroughly researched for future Tallinn developments.