Las Vegas Sands eyes Singapore-style casino resort in Korea

By Park Hyung-ki
  • Published : Sept 2, 2014 - 20:23
  • Updated : Sept 2, 2014 - 20:23
Las Vegas Sands, an American resort and casino operator company, has strong interest in building a world-class integrated resort with a casino that is accessible by locals with certain restrictions, its global business development official said Tuesday.

The Nevada-based company that built Marina Bay Sands in Singapore has been eyeing South Korea for its next project as Asia’s fourth-largest economy has been toying with the idea of easing casino regulations to boost tourism and attract investment.

“We are interested in Korea. We think it is a top development opportunity for our industry, for our company, and we are very eager to find an opportunity to contribute in Korea in an appropriate manner,” George Tanasijevich, the managing director of global development, said in an email interview with Yonhap.

“What we are looking for is a location that can support our business model.”

Tanasijevich said his company has recently proposed to the Seoul government the construction of “a truly iconic building” in Jamsil, the site of the 1988 Olympic Games main stadium located in the affluent southern Seoul area. It is close to the Hangang River that runs through the capital city with a population of over 10 million, and Lotte World Tower, a 123-story building currently under construction. 
Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s Marina Bay Sands (left) in Singapore. (Bloomberg)

“We proposed to move the baseball stadium to another location in order to optimize the redevelopment potential of the Jamsil site as a leading international MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destination,” Tanasijevich said. “Rebuilding and relocating the baseball stadium as a 40,000-seat dome facility will solve a critical need for a year-round facility that can be used for sporting and other events 365 days a year.”

Tanasijevich, who also serves as the CEO of Marina Bay Sands, stressed his company’s business model and expertise is in large-scale integrated resorts with a focus on the MICE businesses.

The lavish waterfront resort, which cost about $5 billion, has helped to boost the convention business in Singapore.

“Sands is very interested in investing in Korea and building a world-class MICE-focused integrated resort that can make Korea a world leader in developing the MICE business,” he said.

“Combined with iconic architecture, we believe our integrated resort will become a major tourist attraction for Korea.”

To build such a facility, Tanasijevich said the projected resort needs a casino that allows not only foreigners but also locals to gamble.

“A casino that allows local residents would be a necessary element for our business model, in the scale of the investment that we are proposing to make and the magnitude of the property that we would look to develop in the market,” he said, without elaborating on the details of the investment proposal.

He argued that if South Korea does not permit its citizens to enter the casino facility, foreign tourists will not be enticed to visit in large numbers.

“They will be suspicious and the positive environment will not be created if Korean citizens are not permitted to enter the facilities. Thus, to ensure that we are able to attract a large number of foreign visitors to these facilities, it is critical that domestic entry on a restricted basis (be made) possible.”

South Korea bans locals from gambling in all but one of its 17 licensed casinos. The state-run casino Kangwon Land is located in a remote mining town that is more than 3 1/2 hours from Seoul by car.

While public sentiment still remains negative over the gambling industry, the government has been cautiously softening regulations, hoping to absorb some of the rapidly expanding Asian gambling market driven by wealthy Chinese.

In a bid to lower legal hurdles for foreign investors, the tourism ministry last month said it will introduce a bidding system for selecting casino operators next year. Attempts or discussions to legalize gambling, however, have faced strong backlash on concerns over potential gaming addition.

South Korea generated $2.7 billion in gaming revenue last year, which was slightly higher than the Philippines’ $2.6 billion but well behind Singapore’s $6.4 billion, according to research house CIMB.

Tanasijevich said his company is looking to build a casino resort like Marina Bay Sands, which has imposed entry rules on admission for its locals, saying “appropriate entry barriers” can lower the societal impact of gambling.

“It is important that Korean people understand that we are not proposing a totally ‘open’ casino,” he said.

“We are proposing an integrated resort based on the Singapore model, which effectively bans locals who are deemed vulnerable, and has measures to ensure locals who want to play do so responsibly.

“Thus, we believe that any law permitting Korean citizens to enter casinos in Korea should include provisions that prevent entry to those who should not be entering the casino.” (Yonhap)