Waking the tiger in Russia

Russia may not be one of the places in the world that you automatically associate with glamorous international gambling destinations, but Vladimir Putin and his government have plans to change all of that.

The new casino which has been opened in the Primorsky region near the port city of Vladivostock is called the Tigre de Cristal and it is being billed as a Las Vegas-style casino resort development aiming to boost the local economy by tapping into the Asian gambling market.

The new casino is the largest in Russia and one of the first to be opened since the Russian government banned gambling facilities across most of the country a number of years ago.

Labelled the Primorye Entertainment Zone, the new casino is part of a multi-million dollar development project led by Macau gambling and construction magnate Lawrence Ho and his gambling investment firm Summit Ascent Holdings. There are plans to further expand the infrastructure in this region to support additional hotel, casino, and entertainment complexes in the years to come.

In addition to the casino in Primorye, gambling is now also permitted in zones wishing the Altai Territory in western Siberia, the Krasnodar Territory in southern Russia, as well as Kaliningrad.

The question will be whether the Russians are a bit late to the party – the challenges facing the casinos of Macau are well documented, with tightening controls on the outbound gambling travels of China’s high-rollers, the casino sector in the Asia Pacific region is no longer the licence to print money that it once seemed to be.

One major factor that is impacting Macau is increasing government regulation, so it will be fascinating to watch whether the Russians will adopt a hands-off approach in relation to the development and operations of the new casinos in Russia. But at the end of the day they are going to be relying on gambling tourists from Japan, Korea, and most of all China in order to deliver the returns needed to make this project a success and boost the regional economy.

The launch of the new casino in the Primorye Entertainment Zone has not been without controversy. As part of the opening celebrations, an endangered Siberian tiger was paraded through the casino. Officials have admitted that the tiger was heavily sedated in order to enable it to take part in proceedings – a move that has been heavily criticised by animal rights and conservation activists. It has been reported that local police are now investigating the incident. It is believed that the casino had purchased the female Siberian tigress from a zoo within Russia.

It is estimated that there are only around five hundred Siberian tigers left alive in the wild, with local people fiercely dedicated to preserving the iconic animal.

Will the Russian tiger raw and emerge as a major player in the world of international gambling, or will Vladimir Putin be left with a white elephant on his hands. Lawrency Ho is known for his shrewd business decisions, so it would be surprisingly if this was a complete disaster. The world will be watching developments in Primorye closely.

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