Hong Kong-listed investment firm Landing International Development Ltd said in a Tuesday filing it now has 100 percent control of a foreigner-only casino project under construction on Jeju Island in South Korea. It said completion of the deal took place the same day.
In a filing on December 13, the company had said it planned to take over the 50 percent of the Jeju Shinhwa World project it did not already control – for a consideration equal to the US$380.76 million already contributed to the Jeju scheme by firms where the ultimate beneficial owner was Singapore casino operator Genting Singapore Plc; plus a premium of US$41.0 million.
Genting Singapore announced in November it was selling its participation in Jeju Shinhwa World – previously known as either “Myths and History Park” or “Resorts World Jeju” – in order to focus on other projects, including a potential investment in Japan.
Japan’s parliament – a body also known as the Diet – approved on December 14 a bill to legalise in principle casino gambling in that country.
Genting Singapore told the Singapore Exchange in a November 11 filing that the total consideration it would receive for relinquishing its interest in the Jeju scheme was US$420 million in cash.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley said in a November 14 note that it viewed South Korea’s foreigner-only casino model as “inherently unattractive and volatile, given the lack of a local feeder market”. South Korea currently has 17 casinos, but the country’s nationals are only allowed to gamble at one of them – Kangwon Land in an upland area of Kangwon province.
China and Japan have been important source markets for customers of South Korea’s foreigner-only casinos. Mainland Chinese tourists are allowed visa-free entry to Jeju – provided they arrive directly by air or cruise ship.
But stocks of listed foreigner-only South Korean casino operators slumped in October, amid reports that China was looking to moderate mass-market tourism to the country.
South Korean casinos’ VIP operations aimed at Chinese nationals have faced pushback from Chinese government action. In August 2015, China News Service reported that mainland China’s Ministry of Public Security had started an operation called “Chain Break”, linked to tourism to South Korea by well-heeled Chinese. It was said to be aimed at disrupting foreign casinos’ access to money flows from China and those casinos’ links to individuals that scout for gamblers from China.
A potential upside for the South Korean market is that – faced with the prospect of Japan developing a domestic casino industry within a few years – South Korea’s politicians might seek to open the country’s existing foreigner-only market to domestic players, said Fitch Ratings Inc in a December report. The report was issued after the passage of Japan’s enabling bill.
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”We expect it [the first phase of casino resort Hoiana in Vietnam] to open in October, and by then basically 90 percent of the first-phase content will be launched – such as the golf course, and hotels”
Andrew Lo Kai Bong
Executive director of project investor Suncity Group