Last month’s shutdown of a ‘cashless’ casino at a resort in the Chinese province of Hainan apparently hasn’t stopped investors from pursuing similar plans in the region. The Macau Daily Times reported that just a week after the authorities padlocked the Jesters Bar at the Mangrove Tree Resort World Sanya Bay, investors were gathered in Hong Kong planning their own cashless casinos.
A few days prior to Jesters’ shutdown, Mangrove owner Zhang Baoquan had told Reuters that his operation – in which players purchased chips with real money but could only redeem winnings for goods and services at the resort – was a ‘test’ by mainland authorities for possibly expanding the reach of casino gambling beyond Macau’s confines. This statement was rejected by the authorities who shut down the casino, saying the operators had “gone beyond the scope of the regulations.”
But an unidentified ‘gaming expert’ told the MDT it was obvious that Zhang “has had the tacit approval of central government officials, even if only by turning a blind eye to the tycoon’s operations.” The sources suggested that the ‘test’ Zhang referred to was not limited to Jesters, and that “up to 10 licenses were issued or were about to be issued” before Jesters was closed. Speculation has mounted that if Zhang hadn’t dragged the issue into the international spotlight by talking to Reuters, Jesters might still be open. Local sources told the MDT that “Sanya officials are very willing to try gaming here. There are other bars like this in Sanya. I know at least three … They open and close all the time. Jesters will open again.”
The suggestion was made that the Reuters report wasn’t the only instigator of Jesters’ temporary demise. A Shanghai native residing in Sanya told the MDT that there were “troubles during a visit by government officials … People got drunk and didn’t want to pay.” An unidentified hotel guest from northern China said the only reason people went to Jesters was because they couldn’t go to Macau and that Jesters’ cashless system was “not worth playing. If you lose, you lose your own money and if you win, you can’t bring the money out.”
So far, there’s no suggested timeline for when Jesters might re-open, nor any indication what sort of offering will be in place when it does. But Wang Xuehong, a researcher at the Ministry of Finance and director of the China Center for Lottery Studies at Peking University, recently told the Global Times that gaming was “not completely forbidden in China” and the central government would decide “whether to relax wider gaming on the market development and civil demand.”