Russia about to Take On Macau as Asian Gambling Hub

RussiaWith the first casino resort about to open its doors in the far eastern region of Primorye, Russia could become the destination of choice for Asian gamblers.

Early next month, the doors should open at “Tigre de Cristal” – the first in a series of luxury casino resorts planned for the far eastern Russian region of Primorye. The resort consists of 119 hotel rooms, 65 gaming tables and 800 slot machines. Compared with most resort casinos, Tigre de Cristal is fairly modest in size. So why will it be making the news?

Tigre de Cristal has been developed and will be managed by Lawrence Ho´s Summit Ascent Holdings company – Ho being the billionaire investor responsible for the City of Dreams developments in Macau and Manila. The casino resort is the first of sixteen planned super casinos for the Primorye Entertainment Zone that will expand over 1,500 acres and include a water park, theatres and a ski slope.

More than ten million visitors are expected each year once the entertainment complex is completed, generating revenues of up to $5.2 billion annually. Already more than $2.2 billion has been invested in the area by casino companies looking to take advantage of generous tax breaks offered by the Russian government (3% to 7%) compared to the taxes being charged on operators in Macau (39%).

Where Exactly is Primorye?

Primorye is officially known as Primorsky Krai. It is situated in the far south eastern corner of Russia (seven times zones east of Moscow) and has borders with China and North Korea. Gamblers planning a trip over to have a bet at the new casino tables should find Vladivostok on their atlas and then head about 250Km north east. Warning. It is very cold and most of the world´s Siberian tigers live in the area.

The area was designated one of four (soon to be six) official gambling zones in Russia in July 2007, and plans to develop the infrastructure of Primorye were put in place. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and typical Russia bureaucracy, the development of the area has been slow to manifest. Now it looks as if it is all systems go for Primorye to challenge Macau as the destination of choice for Asian gamblers.

Primorye has the advantage of being located much closer than Macau for gamblers in Northern China, South Korea and Japan. Vladivostok can be reached by air in under 2½ hours from Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo (it takes four hours to reach Macau) and, while the value of the rouble is depressed, punters will be getting much greater value for their money than they would in Macau.

Other Advantages of Primorye over Macau (and Las Vegas)

Cheaper labour costs and lower tax rates for operators mean better deals for punters. Other than the temperatures and the tigers, it sounds great – but there is more! There are not the currency restrictions that exist in Macau and Las Vegas, and visa requirements – already scrapped for South Vietnamese nationals and Chinese tour groups – are likely to be relaxed for all nationalities visiting Primorye.

What is not known yet – and this could be a potential game changer for the success of Primorye over Macau – is if smoking will be allowed in specified areas or private VIP rooms. Last month, authorities in Macau proposed a blanket ban on smoking in casinos – including in specially constructed airport-style smoking lounges that had just been installed throughout Macau´s casinos to comply with previous legislation. Smoking is generally banned in public places in Russia, but an exception could be made while the Primorye Entertainment Zone is in its infancy.

If you fancy a glimpse of what the new Tigre de Cristal Casino will look like, the video below has just been released by the resort. We are not sure if actors were paid to represent grumpy old Russian men, but guess that the plastering on the wall will be finished by the time the resort opens for business next month.