China looks to create ‘Macau on the Mekong’ in Laos

china-laos-macau-mekongTo the list of Asian gambling hotspots that includes Macau and Singapore, you can soon add the name Ton Pheung. Located on the Laotian side of the Mekong River, Ton Pheung is part of the infamous Golden Triangle, the source of much of the world’s heroin traffic (at least, until the Taliban got into the game). But while the district may be in Laos, a 3000-acre section of it is a Chinese-run ‘special economic zone’ (SEZ). This SEZ is looking to become the region’s next great gambling destination.

According to the Asian affairs magazine The Diplomat, the driving force behind this move is a Hong Kong-registered company called Dokngiewkham, aka The King Romans Group. The group, comprised of Chinese investors whose identities are not easily pinned down, are in the process of constructing a complex that will eventually include casinos, hotels, a shopping center, karaoke bars, swimming pools, a medical clinic and two golf courses. Roads and railways are also being built to ferry passengers and goods in and out of the SEZ from Thailand and China. The entire project, on target to be completed by 2020, is expected to cost $2.25b.

Given the scope of the project and the size of that budget, the investors seem to be in it for the long haul. To that end, Laos has given Dokngiewkham a 99-year lease on the property. With the smallest population in Southeast Asia, Laos is more than willing to offer its deep-pocketed Chinese benefactors a lot of latitude within the SEZ. As one casino exec put it: “We have our own government inside the zone.” Hey, isn’t that what Atlantic City’s trying to create? Perhaps not…