The soft opening of Donaco International Ltd.’s expanded casino-hotel operations on Vietnam’s northern border went off without a hitch, despite the current political tensions between Vietnam and China. With local residents banned from gambling in Vietnamese casinos, Donaco’s casino operations in Lao Cai depend almost entirely on an influx of gamblers from across the border in China’s Yunnan province, but Donaco says the soft opening on May 18 was attended by “a large and enthusiastic group of players from China.”
Speaking at the recent Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Asia in Macau, Donaco managing director Joey Lim Keong Yew said the company had “set down house rules” to prevent visitors from falling victim to the anti-Chinese violence that swept Vietnam earlier this month. Lim said guests were “not allowed to deviate away from the hotel and casino” and if they strayed out of bounds, “they do so at their own risk.”
Donaco’s new five-star hotel and casino is called the Aristo International Hotel and the Chinese characters for ‘Aristo’ translate into English as ‘Everlasting Victory’ (so much better than ‘go home broke’). The Aristo is licensed to have up to 50 gaming tables (some of which pictured above), a significant step up from the Lao Cai’s original complement of just eight tables. Despite the fact that many of the new 428 hotel rooms won’t be ready until July, Donaco says hotel bookings are ‘strong’ thanks to increased interest from tour groups from Shanghai and other locations beyond Yunnan.
Lim said it was only a matter of time before Vietnam’s government relaxed its rules on locals gambling in casinos, which would help diversify Donaco’s customer base (currently 99% derived from China). Lim said the government has realized that it’s losing $800m a year in potential tax revenue from gamblers making the trek across the border to casinos in Cambodia or to more distant jurisdictions like Macau or the Philippines. Lim suggested the government needed to establish a formal gaming regulator if it wanted to take the next great leap forward.
CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?
In the meantime, a casino just across Vietnam’s border with Cambodia has a new owner, but for how long? In March, Australian-listed firm Cell Aquaculture (CAQ), which used to make its bones via marine technology, purchased the Roxy Casino, one of 10 small casinos in Bavet, a special economic zone in Svay Rieng province. CAQ director Richard Soo told the Australian Stock Exchange that it had invested $1.2m in refurbishing the casino, which is licensed to offer 25 traditional gaming tables, 10 online gaming tables and sports betting. The Roxy’s soft opening was on Monday with the official reopening set for August.
But the current tensions between Vietnam and China are taking their toll on Bavet’s casinos. Bavet is located just across the border from Moc Bai, Vietnam and is just 87km from Ho Chi Minh City. An estimated 40% of Bavet’s cross-border traffic comes exclusively to gamble, but the deputy head of the Bavet International Border Gate told the Phnom Penh Post that the hordes of Vietnamese gamblers had “declined noticeably” in recent months, leading to a number of the area’s casinos contemplating shutting down operations. Hey, politics… quit harshing Asia’s gambling buzz.