The Chinese New Year weekend already rivals the Superbowl in Las Vegas. The Strip is increasingly Chinese …
MB October 2020 Special Report | The Chinese Gambler
“Las Vegas is a favourite destination for Asians, from groups of budget travellers to high-end gamblers who can individually have an impact on casino operations.
Gaming is part of the Asian culture, and eighty-five per cent of the high-rollers that play in Las Vegas come from mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan”, according to Italian researcher Sandra Galletti. Another researcher, Qing Han, adds: “Because of many Chinese gambling movies and TV dramas, in which Las Vegas was frequently featured as the final destination, the ultimate paradise, the ‘City of Gambling’, Las Vegas is very well known among the Chinese.”
A study published by Bear Stearns market analysts estimated that 3/4 of the Strip’s baccarat players come from Asia, “indicating that the health of Asian economies has a direct bearing on the bottom line of several Las Vegas casinos.”
“Today, it is easy to spot a baccarat table in casinos throughout Las Vegas, and even smaller-scale local casinos are offering mini baccarat”, the most popular game among Chinese gamblers, notes Han. In 2010, baccarat players wagered $10.7 billion on the Strip, a 24 percent increase from 2009, making baccarat the only Nevada game that is growing in popularity and yield despite the economic downturn. Since 2010, baccarat has generated more revenue than blackjack, the most played table game in Nevada casinos.
Casinos consider the Chinese New Year the best gambling weekend of the year, after the Super Bowl weekend, when thousands of Chinese come to Las Vegas to celebrate and gamble, “bringing thousands of domestic and international tourists to Las Vegas and generating millions of dollars in the city’s economy, particularly in gaming. The celebration of the holiday attracts higher-end customers from Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan who spend more than the average tourist, especially on casino floor games like baccarat”, wrote Han. Several properties have started to celebrate the holiday, particularly Caesars Palace, something they have been doing for 40 years now.
That’s why former Asian regional marketing director for Harrah’s Las Vegas Bill Chu stated 10 years ago: “Asians are the only growing segment of the casino market, and the Chinese are the only people in Asia with cash.”
Amazed by the potential of the Chinese VIP market (statistics show that in Las Vegas “losses [incurred] by the Chinese have been extraordinary”), some gambling companies have strategically placed executives in potential Asian markets, details Ms Galletti: “But these efforts will only be worthwhile if a prepared team is ready to properly serve these customers when they arrive at the casinos. Getting to the casino is one thing. Having a positive experience while there is another.”
“With the increased recognition of the importance of Chinese customers and their
preferences, several changes have been made in recent years”, explains Qing Han, detailing some examples, such as the fact that the MGM Grand changed their main lion mouth entrance only a few years after building it, in order to avoid a Chinese bad luck symbol. Other properties have redesigned a large portion of casino floors, adding Chinese furniture. Caesars Entertainments imported carved wood from China to house hundreds of baccarat tables and Pai Gow poker, which is based on ancient Chinese domino games. Red is the dominant colour on the casino floor of the Encore Las Vegas. Butterfly patterns are everywhere, and floor numbers in the elevator panel from 40 to 49 are missing as a concession to Chinese superstition.
Cambodia and Laos
In general, all countries bordering China seek to take advantage and access the largest market in the world.
Gambling is no different, despite the strong limitations imposed by the Beijing authorities.
Laos, for example, has established the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, where the Kings Romans casino complex, dedicated to Chinese gamblers, stands out.
“The Kings Romans casino has undoubtedly significantly contributed to the Lao economy, but at the price of Lao sovereignty. The casino has been targeted with U.S. sanctions since 2018 over allegations that the casino’s owner, Zhao Wei, facilitates narcotics trafficking, money laundering, bribery, and human trafficking, among other things. This notion is backed by known illegal activities such as prostitution, which is illegal in both Laos and China, yet is booming within the Golden Triangle SEZ to the point of regular distribution of Las Vegas-esque cards advertising such services”, could be read in a recent article in Diplomat magazine.
Another example is Cambodia.
Although it shares no border with China, Cambodia has been the target of huge investments by Chinese businessmen, especially in the tourist area of Sihanoukville.
Official data from last year shows that 90 per cent of businesses in the city is owned by Chinese nationals: out of 156 hotels and guest houses in the region, 150 are Chinese-owned; and the Chinese have invested in 48 out of 62 casinos, Pacific Asia Travel Association president Thourn Sinan revealed.
Another way for Cambodia to exploit China’s appetite for gambling was through online gambling, rivalling the Philippines.
The situation has reached such proportions – as it has in the Philippines (see text in this special report) – that the Chinese government has had to intervene. And in this case, successfully.
A year ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that the government would stop issuing new gaming licenses and no longer renew existing ones, with the ban becoming official on 1 January 2020.
But he also said that the decision had consequences: the government announced that 200,000 Chinese nationals have left Cambodia since the online gambling ban.
By the way, Sihanoukville is one of the major cities on China’s One Belt One Road Initiative.
MB October 2020 Special Report | See > Our neighbour