Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Can Corona lure in the locals?


On first glance, the island of Phu Quoc, with a population of just 100,000, would appear to be an unusual destination for arguably Vietnam’s most significant casino development to date.

Corona Resort and Casino, which opened in January, is the first venue in the country to admit Vietnamese nationals onto the floor under a three-year pilot scheme. Netherlands-based Upffinity Gaming Management operates the venue under an exclusive management deal signed in May 2017, while Peter Keijzer, the former general manager of Holland Casino in Amsterdam, is serving in the same role at the Phu Quoc venue.

The casino’s location, though, is seen by some as a big challenge.

“We heard it was slow at the beginning, but it’s picking up,” Fortuna Investments director Tim Shepherd said at the ASEAN Gaming Summit in March. “The junkets are starting to pay attention. It’s slow, but it’s getting there.”

Augustine Vinh, president of Stellar Management Corp. and adviser to the Vietnamese government on gaming-related issues, added: “Phu Quoc is a small island. They are hoping to get people from the provinces in the south and maybe some from Cambodia. They want the Vietnamese from Ho Chi Minh City to get on a plane as it’s only a 45-minute flight and it’s quite cheap.”

Connections

Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is a stone’s throw from Cambodia. Daily direct flights of less than two hours bring in tourists from Bangkok to the island’s international airport, which opened in 2012 and welcomes four million travellers per year.

Positioned for domestic and international visitors, Upffinity chief operating officer Goran Milosheski insists Phu Quoc is the right location for many reasons, one of which has been significant recent investments in infrastructure on the island.

In 2014, Phu Quoc was designated as a special economic zone by the Vietnamese government, allowing all visitors to stay on the island for up to 30 days visa-free, boosting the picturesque island’s tourism and international trade prospects.

“There are no other casinos on the island of Phu Quoc,” Milosheski says. “Considering such substantial investments, we believe that this project will draw more travellers to the island from Vietnam and rest of the region.”

Local interest

Currently about 40 percent of the casino’s visitors are Vietnamese, with around 10 percent being from Phu Quoc.

“We expect the Vietnamese segment to grow significantly in the coming year,” Milosheski adds. “The local economy is experiencing a significant inflow of capital, especially in local and international tourism.

“There are multiple new hospitality projects being developed in Phu Quoc and the local population is mainly involved in hospitality, fishing and small manufacturing.”

The casino itself, designed by Steelman Partners, forms part of an extensive integrated resort featuring five-star Radisson Blu and VinOasis hotels, with a combined total of nearly 2,000 rooms, a convention centre, theatre, shops, an 18-hole golf course, a safari attraction and an amusement park.

“There are lots of amenities in terms of entertainment and leisure, as well as gambling,” Milosheski adds. “It takes inspiration from similar projects in Asia and the western hemisphere.”

Casino floor

The 18,000 square metres of casino space offers 100 tables – including baccarat, roulette, black jack, sic bo and poker variants. There are 30 automated roulette stations and about 850 slot machines.

Baccarat and roulette are the “games of choice” at the casino, according to Milosheski, with minimum bets of VND500,000 ($21.50) for the former and VND50,000 for the latter.

Black jack bets start at VND300,000, while the casino’s 1,000 electronic gaming machines offer bets from VND10,000. A total of 125 stadium gaming terminals, offering live dealer roulette, are also available.

The casino has three restaurants, as well as bars and lounges. Up to 1,500 guests can be welcomed at any one time, with predictable spikes in visitor numbers on evenings and at weekends.

To cater for the visitors, the resort employs about 1,300 staff members, of which about 500 are casino staff.

“We expect these numbers to increase to 1,500 staff members in total, with around 600 being casino staff,” Milosheski says.

“Our casino staff are recruited from around the country, with a small number of experienced expatriate managers from the major markets of Macau, Singapore and Manila. More than half of our dealers were trained from scratch by our expatriate professionals.”

VIPs

Without disclosing specifics, the casino’s source of revenue is largely via VIPs, Milosheski says.

“Corona offers several VIP gaming areas, including three areas on the main floor, two VIP gaming areas on our mezzanine floor, and finally, our VVIP gaming area and private gaming spaces in our Sky Casino with its spectacular views,” he adds.

Estimates in 2017 suggested that Vietnamese spend $800 million on gambling in neighbouring countries every year, but attracting and retaining high rollers will be a key challenge for the casino, according to Vinh.

“The government wants to stop the outflow of money from gaming, but the high-roller players don’t want to play in Vietnam,” Vinh adds. “They don’t want the scrutiny so they go to Macau and Singapore if they are high rollers, while the low end goes to Cambodia.”

Whilst the opportunity for locals to gamble at Corona has monopolised media interest in the development, it is clear that the long-term success of the casino is more likely to hinge on whether VIPs can be persuaded to travel to Phu Quoc and try out a new and unique gambling experience.

 

Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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