Chinese Government tacitly approves gambling in Sanya, Hainan

The Jesters Casino Bar, part of the newly opened Mangrove Tree Resort World on Sanya Bay marks the first step in China’s tacit approval of gambling outside Macao. Winner at the new casino cannot win cash – only points that they can use to pay for accommodation, luxury goods, jewelry and artwork for sale at the resort.

Art, film and real estate mogul Zhang Baoquan who owns the new Casino in Sanya says: “Our casino bar is the first in the country. The government is monitoring, it’s a test,” Zhang told Reuters in a recent interview at his 23rd-floor office overlooking his sprawling 173-acre property that opened late last year. “Right now we are not at this stage (legalising casino gambling), but my personal opinion is, in future, there is a big possibility that they will have.”

The stakes are enormous — China’s monopoly gambling site, Macau, raked in $38 billion in gaming revenues last year, primarily from Chinese gamblers. If Beijing were to allow gambling elsewhere in the country, cash would follow.It’s not just the Chinese government that is watching the development. MGM Resorts International opened a hotel in Sanya last year and fellow U.S. casino operator Caesars Entertainment is set to open a hotel in 2014. An MGM spokesman said the company had no plan to introduce “anything of this kind”. Caesars did not respond to requests for comment.

Mangrove Tree Resort World, the newest addition to Hainan’s rapidly developing hotel scene, will be China’s biggest resort when construction is completed next year. It will have more than 4,000 rooms, a convention hall accommodating 6,000 people and facilities including a water park. It is one of 10 integrated resorts that Zhang is developing around the country, including one more in Sanya and others stretching from Lhasa in Tibet to the eastern coastal city Qingdao.

While the Chinese government does not permit casinos in the country outside of Macau, Zhang – ranked by Forbes as one of the country’s 300 richest people in 2012 with $600 million – said Hainan could become an exception. Sensitive to existing restrictions, the soft-spoken businessman emphasized cultural attractions such as his art gallery that, along with the casino bar, will be incorporated into the planned resorts.

When players win, they receive “Mangrove” points that can be used to buy products available in the casino such as an iPad 3G or a Rimowa suitcase. Once luxury brands open outlets within the resort, customers will be able to spend their points in those stores. Art work from Zhang’s Beijing art gallery is also available for purchase. Retail stores including Prada and Louis Vuitton will be part of a network of 20 luxury stores that will open at the resort next year, Zhang said.

China is positioning Hainan as an international tourist destination, approving the construction of 15 large resorts and 63 five-star hotels as part of the country’s five-year plan. As Chinese spend their money in new casinos across Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam, pressure is growing on Beijing to keep more gamblers at home.

adapted from Reuters

Mangrove Tree Resort World, Sanya Bay