Frontlines

Drapeau’s latest vision: chips ahoy

David Thomas January 1 1979
Frontlines

Drapeau’s latest vision: chips ahoy

David Thomas January 1 1979

Drapeau’s latest vision: chips ahoy

If Mayor Jean Drapeau and an Arab investor get their way, Montreal's riverfront will become the site of the world’s biggest floating crap game. With Drapeau’s blessing, Saudi Arabian businessman Akram Ojjeh has asked the Quebec government to allow him to tow the retired luxury liner France up the St. Lawrence River to berth at Montreal where it would become a hotel and gambling casino. The most elegant liner still afloat, the 66,000-ton vessel has been anchored at Le Havre since 1974, when the French government decided that the prestige of having the world’s greatest passenger ship was not worth the cost. It sold the France to the Saudi investment company Société de Techniques d’Avant-Garde for $20 million last year.

At first, the France’s new owners planned to anchor the ship at Beirut but, as the Lebanese capital disintegrated in the country's raging civil war, they decided to search out calmer waters. Drapeau, al-^ ways on the lookout for yet° another grandiose scheme to enhance Montreal's world repg utation, jumped at the chance, § and even the Parti Québécois g government has treated £ the plan seriously, promo ising to have its opinion x

ready by the end of January.

If they get a go-ahead, the ship’s owners must then remove both the heavy engines and the funnels to clear the shallows of the St. Lawrence channel and slip under the bridges between Quebec City and Montreal. But there are other problems, too: tor instance, Montreal already has many more hotel rooms than it needs; and the provincial government has to declare casinos

legal before the liner can drop anchor. But Quebec Finance Minister Jacques Parizeau has just revealed that he has ordered a study of how casino gambling could be introduced to Quebec. “One of these casinos might or might not be the France,” Parizeau said, coyly.

So far, federal authorities appear sympathetic to the scheme, since the ship would complement the waterfront rejuven-

ation already under way. And for Drapeau, it’s another flashy venture that, this time, has the gambling spirit built right into the premises. David Thomas