A giant hotel-casino complex is being built on Turkmen shores of the Caspian Sea, hoping to become the country’s Las Vegas.
Right on the shores of Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan, there are seven marble hotels-brothers, erected by direct order of Turkmen President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. These are the first buildings of the Avaza tourist complex, which is already being referred to as Turkmen Las Vegas.
The President is planning to build 30 buildings in total and use around $5 billion of the state coffers to do so. Most of the buildings will host casinos to operate under Turkmen gambling laws and attract foreign gambling tourists.
However, the huge project bill and constant advertisement, will not hide the fact that Turkmenistan is one of the most authoritarian and closed states in the region, where the word of the President is absolute and there’s no opposition whatsoever.
Residents of the neighboring Turkmenbasy, a town 20 minutes away from Avaza, are living in a totally different world. There’s a heavy sulfur smell in the air coming from the petrochemical plant, the streets, shops, and even food places are on the brink of being called anti-sanitary.
The local population is looking back with nostalgia to the times of Niyazov, the first President, now referred to Turkmenbasy – the Leader of Turkmen. The only things left from those times now are the free utilities (gas, electricity, and water), all other prices have went up many times over.
The future of Turkmen Las Vegas – Avaza
Revenues from natural gas exports help Turkmen economy to grow. The country is currently 4th in the world when gas reserves are concerned, and long-term estimates reveal that gas production will grow three-fold.
This is good news for Avaza, naturally, since the completion of the complex is directly dependent on the state of Turkmen economy. The President is confident the complex will be completed as planned, and luxurious casinos and hotels will welcome both local and foreign tourists. It is also said that Avaza will offer plenty of opportunities to bet on sports in Turkmenistan, besides the casino gambling action.
There are also plans for a huge fountain in the Caspian Sea to resemble the famous Jet d’Eau in Geneva. The planned seven kilometer channel in the complex is supposed to remind visitors of Venice. Naturally, the biggest hotel in the complex, Watanchy (Patriot), will have a giant portrait of the President.
However, there are some fears about the feasibility of the project and its attractiveness to foreign visitors. The way things are right now, despite the $300 a night room rates, the existing hotel staff are yet to learn such words as Internet and Wi-Fi, not to mention online casinos in Turkmenistan.
As for the restaurants, even in the premier hotel Watanchy, they still resemble Soviet canteens and offer approximately similar menus. Even their opening hours are pretty similar to the USSR times: 10PM and it’s bed time.
It remains to be seen just how successful the Avaza complex will become. There are rumors that foreign investors have shown interest. Hopefully they can bring in a bit of the Western culture to the project including better food, customer service, and of course Internet.