A US-South Korean consortium was selected Friday as the winner of an integrated 1.24 billion US dollar resort project near South Korea's main international airport that will combine K-pop with casino mainly to attract Chinese players.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said it has approved a 1.54 trillion (1.24 billion US dollars) investment plan presented by US casino operator Mohegan Sun and South Korean chemicals maker KCC Corp to build a casino, hotels, a theme park, shopping malls, convention venues and a K-pop entertainment arena on Yeongjong island west of Seoul by 2019.
South Korea has 17 casinos with only one open to locals. Two casino resorts are under construction on the island, which houses Incheon International Airport.
The new project envisions a world-class integrated resort that should be built within four years after the consortium received a casino license.
Ministry officials have said the new casino resort would help South Korea attract more Chinese tourists as it is closer than Macau. It would be the first casino resort to be built by the US company outside North America.
The green light comes as casino operators around Asia are trying to court Chinese clients.
South Korea's state-run Kangwon Land is the only casino to admit locals. It is listed as Asia's top performing casino stock by raking in some 1.63 trillion won ($1.33 billion) in revenue in 2015 while revenues at other foreigners-only casinos have declined because of Beijing's anti-corruption drive.
Revenues at South Korean foreigner-only casino operators Paradise Co and Grand Korea Leisure fell 9 percent and 6.5 percent respectively, hit by a halt in marketing to big-spending Chinese VIPs.
US casino operator Las Vegas Sands has suggested it would consider investing up to 5 trillion won in an integrated resort in the southern city of Busan if locals are allowed to enter the casino. But Kangwon Land will maintain its monopoly on local players until 2025.
Casino in other Asian countries relies on mainland Chinese, for up to 90 percent of revenue in Vietnam. China's anti-graft campaign began to weigh on the gambling industry in 2014, especially in Macau, where mainland players accounted for about 70 percent of revenue.
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