Gaming operations at South Korea casino complex Inspire Entertainment Resort are likely to start by the Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday period in 2024.
That is according to the property’s president, Chen Si (pictured). “We are trying”, Mr Si told GGRAsia. “That would be our target.” The 2024 Chinese New Year holiday period starts on February 10.
“It depends on the licensing process and that’s the reason gaming comes after non-gaming,” the executive explained. “Because in South Korea, for us to get the casino licence, we need to get the five-star hotel rating first. Then we can officially apply for the casino licence.”
The Inspire project includes a foreigner-only casino. According to Mr Si, it will house a total of 150 gaming tables and 700 slot machines.
The casino complex will include 1,275 rooms and suites. The property is being developed by a local unit of United States-based casino operator Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority. The latter trades as Mohegan Gaming.
The resort will have a 15,000-seat multi-purpose arena. The first phase of the complex has previously been described by Mohegan as a US$1.6-billion venture.
“Construction is about 85 percent complete at this point,” said Mr Si. He added it was likely overall construction work would be completed by September.
Non-gaming facilities at the venue are scheduled to open in the fourth quarter this year, according to previous commentary from the casino group. “Probably by the end of the year we’ll have everything open except the casino,” said Mr Si. Prior to joining the Inspire project, he worked for Macau casino operator Sands China Ltd and Macau-based casino services firm Macau Legend Development Ltd.
The hotel will be the first facility to have a soft launch at Inspire, “likely within a November time frame”, the executive stated. The meeting and event centre is set to welcome its first trade visitors also in November. The arena will in likelihood open some time between “mid to late November”, according to Mr Si.
“We want to be careful because that’s huge capacity,” he said, in reference to the arena. “We want to make sure the property is ready to handle a major concert logistically.”
The complex will include shops, restaurants, and entertainment elements. The property will have an indoor water park and an outdoor park for families.
Inspire’s president said management was looking for the proportion of gaming to non-gaming revenue at the resort to “be close to 50-50, at least for the near future”.
With Inspire, Mohegan aims to tap into the Greater China mass and premium mass business segments, said Mr Si. Management also wants to grab its “fair share” of Japanese gamblers, as well as South Korean locals holding a foreign passport, and foreign expatriates, traditionally strong sources of clientele for foreigner-only casinos in South Korea.
“We will look to establish sales offices in Japan and probably Taiwan, and maybe Macau or Hong Kong, to really drive the high-end business,” the executive explained. To attract mass clients, the firm plans to make use of its non-gaming offers, and the popularity worldwide of South Korean culture, from “K-pop” to “K-beauty” and “K-shopping”.
Mr Si said Mohegan did “not count on having local gaming” legalised in South Korea in order for Inspire to be successful from a revenue standpoint.
“Obviously, we’ll welcome that, but we’re not actively lobbying for it,” he said. “We’ll have to respect the culture and the political reality in Korea, knowing this is a extremely sensitive topic politically.”
Incheon airport stopover trade
Instead, the Mohegan group will try to make use of its existing client database in North America, to boost business in South Korea. “We are obviously leveraging what we have in Korea as an offer for our database in North America, in the United States and Canada,” said Mr Si.
Inspire is located on Yeongjong Island, close to the Incheon International Airport, the main air hub for South Korea’s capital, Seoul. When the Inspire project was first announced, one of the aims was to help boost international visitor traffic to the infrastructure.
“The whole genesis of this project is to become a supporting amenity for the Incheon airport,” Mr Si told GGRAsia. “Not only Incheon airport will give us direct access to airlift from a variety of regions in Asia Pacific and globally, but we are also trying to do cross-marketing – with promotions and partnerships – to capture the transit traffic.”
The Inspire president added: “If we give [transit passengers] an option to spend six to 12 hours right next to the airport for a great experience, I think there’s some significant revenue to be had.”
There is already a casino resort in operation whitin the Incheon airport area. Paradise City is a joint venture operation between Paradise Co Ltd, an operator in South Korea of foreigner-only casinos, and Japanese group Sega Sammy Holdings Inc.
“There is quite a bit of differences” between the two properties, Mr Si said. “Paradise City has more of a luxury business hotel feel, whereas Inspire is more of a high-end vacation resort feel.” The executive added that Inspire had more hotel rooms, a larger meeting and event centre, and an arena capable of hosting large-scale shows.
Inspire sits on a 800-acre (323.7-hectare) plot of land: the project is to include multiple phases of development. The current complex only occupies about 120 acres of the total.
“We are committed to the [South] Korean government to evaluate a business plan for phase two,” Mr Si told GGRAsia. “We’re actively discussing this with a number of partners.”
Asked if Mohegan could seek to enter more markets in Asia, Mr Si said “the answer depends on how well we open and ramp up” the Incheon property.
“If we do well in South Korea, I think that sets us up well to expand further in Asia,” he stated. “[That's] not just as an investor, maybe also as a management company, because that’s actually what we are doing in North America: that is a model we like as well [because it is] asset light.”
Oct 01, 2023Macau’s September casino gross gaming revenue (GGR) fell by 13.2 percent month-on-month, to MOP14.94 billion (US$1.85 billion), according to a Sunday announcement from the local regulator, the...
”The Philippines has been the primary growth driver, but really the broader Asian gaming industry is something that’s really important to us”
Chief executive of casino equipment provider Light & Wonder