The government of South Korea has awarded a licence to build a casino resort to a consortium between U.S.-based Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (also known as Mohegan Sun) and South Korean chemicals manufacturer KCC Corp.
The new property is to be located in Incheon, near the country capital Seoul, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said in a statement on its website on Friday.
The country’s authorities had been reviewing an unspecified number of proposals for new casino resorts, submitted as part of an integrated resort licence bidding process initiated in 2015. There were up to two new casino resort licences up for grabs, but the South Korean government decided to grant only one.
The licence allows the Mohegan Sun-KCC consortium to set up a foreigners-only casino.
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.
The winning bid (pictured in an artist’s rendering) has a price tag of US$1.24 billion and includes a hotel, retail areas, a concert arena and venues for conventions, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. The scheme is scheduled to begin operations by 2020.
“We will closely monitor the project to help support the [winning consortium] in building a world-class integrated resort,” the ministry said, quoted by the news agency. “It is expected to boost the competitiveness of the South Korean tourism industry with various tourism infrastructure, such as a K-pop arena, a theme park and a convention centre.”
There are already two casino projects proposed for Incheon.
South Korean foreigners-only casino operator Paradise Co Ltd has linked with Japanese pachinko operator Sega Sammy Holdings Inc for a project in Incheon referred to as Paradise City and already under construction. The scheme, with a total area of 330,000 square metres (3.55 million sq feet), is presented in its official website as having a price ticket of KRW1.3 trillion (US$1.05 billion) and featuring a foreigners-only casino with 160 live table games, 388 electronic table games and 350 slot machines. It is scheduled to open in 2017.
The other announced project for Incheon is the result of a partnership between U.S. casino operator Caesars Entertainment Corp and Hong Kong-listed real estate developer Lippo Ltd. Construction has not yet started. Analyst Grant Govertsen from Union Gaming Securities Asia Ltd said in a note on Friday “there are uncertainties currently associated with the Caesars project”.
No regional impact
Mr Govertsen said in his note following the South Korean government’s announcement that construction for Mohegan Sun-KCC’s project should begin in early 2017. The project has the working title ‘Inspire Integrated Resort’. It will be Mohegan Sun’s first venture outside of North America.
KCC in November announced it acquired a 24.5-percent stake in Inspire Integrated Resort Co Ltd – a South Korean subsidiary of U.S. regional tribal casino operator Mohegan Sun – for a total consideration of KRW203.8 billion, becoming a joint venture partner in the casino resort project.
The consortium has a commitment to spend a total of US$5 billion in South Korea over the next 20 years.
Mohegan Sun’s project includes a 20,000-square metre casino with 250 gaming tables – including 40 VIP tables – and 1,500 slot machines.
The casino resort will have a three-tower luxury hotel complex with 1,350 rooms, a 15,000-seat arena, and more than 20,000 square metres of shops, restaurants, art exhibition and music entertainment areas, including “a Korean village celebrating Korean food and music, and a Native American cultural and arts experience”, according to Mohegan Sun.
Union Gaming said in its note it did not expect the three new casino resorts in Incheon to pose a material threat to Macau, Singapore or the Philippines.
Mr Govertsen noted the ongoing decline in Chinese high roller play around the region. He added that none of the U.S.-based casino operators entering the South Korean market had a significant built-in base of VIP customers, being largely reliant upon mass-market customers to generate a return.
He said: “Importantly for Macau, its mass market gross gaming revenue is driven primarily by southern China meaning that related persons are unlikely to divert to [South] Korea for gaming. Rather we would expect Incheon integrated resorts to draw from northern Chinese cities (e.g. Beijing, Tianjin) and from Chinese visitors already going to [South] Korea for purposes other than gaming.”
In a January note, Morgan Stanley said new casino supply did “not bode well” for South Korea’s foreigners-only casinos, especially as the investment bank expected the number of Chinese high rollers to South Korean casinos to continue declining.
Union Gaming’s Mr Govertsen also noted that the three casino projects for Incheon are not close to each other. “This suggests that there is unlikely to be the natural benefit associated with the cluster effect seen in markets like Las Vegas and Macau (e.g. driving increased visitation and therefore increased revenue).”
He added: “However, operators who do not have a presence in Asia, like Caesars (coming in capital light) and Mohegan Sun, seem to be less risk averse and could be beneficiaries should [South] Korea ever green light locals gaming beyond the lone locals gaming licence issued to Kangwon Land – although we find this scenario to be highly unlikely for the foreseeable future.”
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”The project [in South Korea] continues apace in terms of detailed design, where we have now reached the 90 percent threshold”
Chief executive of U.S. tribal casino operator Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment