South Korea’s Provinces Want In

At least four local governments in South Korea are planning or considering hosting resort-scale casinos. Each wants its piece of the expanded industry envisioned by the government of President Park Geun-ye (l.) and believes it has what it takes to make a successful market.

Four provincial governments in South Korea say they’re planning or considering hosting resort casinos.

In addition to Incheon and Jeju, which are slated for major gaming investments, English-language daily The Korea Times reports that Busan, North Jeolla, South Jeolla and Gyeonggi also want in on the action.

“Our study shows that over 80 percent of multi-leisure complexes’ revenue comes from casinos,” said Byun Keun-se, a spokesman for North Jeolla, who told the Times three local sites around a development zone in the province known as Saemangeum would be appropriate for gaming under a law governing the area.

A South Jeolla official responsible for promoting investment in the province said his region is ideally located to compete for Chinese gamblers as well as investors. “Our land is located by the West Sea, which visitors from the eastern part of China can easily access.”

A tourism official with the municipal government of Busan said the port city is thinking about gaming for a landfill area known as Dongbusan.

A spokesman for Gyeonggi said his province also considering a casino in hopes of reviving a plan for a Universal Studios resort in Hwaseong that has languished for want of interested developers.

“For us, it’s important to find ways to attract investors, and a casino resort can be a solution,” he said.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said it has no policies that limit the number of casinos in the country. “We thoroughly review applications for casino operation and give a permit license to those who meet the requirements,” a spokesman told the Times.

All of the provincial initiatives speak to an increasing desire among local governments to capture some of the benefits the administration of President Park Geun-ye is touting with its emphasis on casinos as a way to boost South Korea’s appeal as a destination for Asia’s booming travel market, the Chinese segment in particular, and relieve the national economy of some of its dependence on exports. The country drew 4 million visitors from China last year, accounting for 36 percent of total foreign visitation and 41 percent of casino visits, according to official data. The government is looking to double that to 10 million visitors by 2020.

The centerpiece of the plan is Yeongjong Island, home to a government-sponsored special economic zone located about an hour’s drive from Seoul near the northwestern port city of Incheon and the country’s main international airport. A joint venture between Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment and Indonesian conglomerate Lippo Group has won tentative approval there for a casino as part of a multi-phased resort pegged at US$800 million in its first stage. Plans call for it to be up and running in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The government is forecasting more than 890 billion won in tourism income (US$830 million) from it and 8,000 construction jobs. The partnership says it will deliver up to 35,000 jobs at full build-out and revenues of US$2.55 billion three years after opening.

Analysts say three to four more resorts could be coming to Yeongjong, one of them backed by the country’s largest operator of foreigners-only casinos, Paradise Entertainment, which is expected to be approved for a casino and hotel comparable to Caesars’ in size and cost in partnership with Japanese pachinko giant Sega Sammy Holdings.

Farther south on the popular resort island of Jeju in the Korea Strait, currently home to several foreigners-only casinos, two sizable gaming resorts are moving forward led Malaysian conglomerate Berjaya Group and a partnership between Genting Singapore and Chinese property giant Landing International Development.

South Korea’s 17 casinos, all but one of which are off-limits to Korean nationals, generated $2.7 billion in gaming revenue last year.