China's cashless casino bar to draw global investors
Updated: 2013-02-18 15:58
MGM Grand Sanya resort, located near the newly opened Mangrove Tree Resort World, is seen on Sanya Bay in Hainan island Feb 6, 2013. For now, players at Jesters casino bar inside the Mangrove Tree Resort World cannot win cash - only points that they can use to pay for accommodation, luxury goods, jewellery and artwork for sale at the resort. [Photo / Agencies]
Placing bets on green-felt baccarat tables in a new casino bar on China's southern Hainan island, punters seem oblivious to a huge wager quietly being placed around them, one that could potentially siphon business from the world's largest gaming hub in Macao an hour's flight away.
For now, players at Jesters casino bar, part of the newly opened Mangrove Tree Resort World on Sanya Bay, cannot win cash - only points that they can use to pay for accommodation, luxury goods, jewelry and artwork for sale at the resort.
Owned by art, film and real estate mogul Zhang Baoquan, the casino bar marks the Chinese government's first tacit approval of a gaming concept outside of Macao. Global investors, including some of the world's biggest gaming companies, are watching to see how the chips will fall.
Chinese art, film and real estate mogul Zhang Baoquan speaks in front of an artwork being displayed in a gallary inside the newly opened Mangrove Tree Resort World on Sanya Bay in Hainan island Feb 6, 2013. [Photo / Agencies]
"Our casino bar is the first in the country. The government is monitoring, it's a test," Zhang told Reuters in a recent interview at his 23rd-floor office overlooking his sprawling 173-acre property that opened late last year.
"Right now we are not at this stage (legalizing casino gambling), but my personal opinion is, in future, there is a big possibility that they will have."
The casino bar, with 50 gaming tables now, is currently open only to hotel guests, but when the resort is completed, local residents will be allowed in.
When players win, they receive "Mangrove" points that can be used to buy products available in the casino such as an iPad 3G or a Rimowa suitcase. Once luxury brands open outlets within the resort, customers will be able to spend their points in those stores. Art work from Zhang's Beijing art gallery is also available for purchase.
Retail stores including Prada and Louis Vuitton will be part of a network of 20 luxury stores that will open at the resort next year, Zhang said.
In the meantime, Zhang is pushing ahead with his expansion plans. Aiming to list the Mangrove Tree brand on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2015, Zhang hopes to use the capital raised to take his Mangrove Tree brand outside of China.
Mangrove Tree Resort World, the newest addition to Hainan's rapidly developing hotel scene, will be China's biggest resort when construction is completed next year. It will have more than 4,000 rooms, a convention hall accommodating 6,000 people and facilities including a water park.
It is one of 10 integrated resorts that Zhang is developing around the country, including one more in Sanya and others stretching from Lhasa in Tibet to the eastern coastal city Qingdao.