Casino operator Las Vegas Sands wants to build a KRW 5t (US $4.5b) casino in South Korea’s second largest city Busan but only if the government agrees to relax its ban on locals visiting casinos.
The Korea Times reported that Marina Bay Sands CEO George Tanasijevich met on Friday with Busan mayor Suh Byong-soo, who was reportedly receptive to Sands’ overture and called on the central government to revise its casino laws.
There are currently two small casinos in the Busan region; Paradise Co’s Paradise Casino Busan and Grand Korea Leisure’s Seven Luck casino, neither of which are allowed to admit South Korean citizens. The only casino allowed to cater to locals is Kangwon Land, which not so coincidentally earns more than the country’s other 16 casinos combined.
Busan is located on South Korea’s southeast coast, while most international casino operators’ interest has been in the Incheon region in the country’s northwest. Sands has been expressing interest in Busan’s potential as a casino destination since 2012 but Sands has made similar pitches regarding potential projects in the capital Seoul, again, only if the country relaxed its locals ban.
Tanasijevich proposed that the government opt for a scheme similar to Singapore, where locals are permitted in casinos provided they pay an entry levy. Tanasijevich also suggested South Korea prohibit access to anyone with a criminal record or serious financial issues, such as bankruptcy.
However much it might be tempted to snag some of Sands’ billions, South Korea is unlikely to accede to Sands’ requests, for the main reason that the other international operators already approved for casino licensing would immediately demand equal treatment. Besides, South Korea’s stated goal in opening up its casino market to international investment was to boost international tourism, not to increase domestic spending on gambling.