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Sands makes sly casino offer

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By Choi Kyong-ae

<span>Sheldon G. Adelson<br />Sands chairman</span><br /><br />
Sheldon G. Adelson
Sands chairman
Las Vegas Sands Corp. has recently offered to build a 5 trillion-won ($4.5 billion) casino and resort in Busan.

But there's more to the offer from the U.S. gambling firm than meets the eye.

First, it comes with a caveat: the government must allow Korean nationals to play in the proposed port casino.

This appears all but impossible at present because of a strong public sentiment against this and fears of the associated negative side effects.

As a matter of fact, among 17 licensed casinos, the state-run Gangwon Land casino in Jeongseon, Gangwon Province, is the only one where Koreans can gamble.

Then, why is Sands making an offer that it knows the government can't accept?

It is because it knows the government is faced with declining tax revenues and pressure to generate jobs and attract foreign investment.

So the U.S. firm is seizing a chance to push the government and see if it will allow Koreans to have limited access to casinos.

The Sands' foray began after Marina Bay Sands (MBS) Chief Executive George Tanasijevich met Busan Metropolitan City Mayor Suh Byung-soo Friday. MBS is a core affiliate of the Nevada-based Las Vegas Sands Group.

Tanasijevich said Busan offers a rival location to resort-casinos in Singapore.

He also asked that Koreans be given access, while offering a questionable set of "preventive" measures such as a ban on those who have criminal records or a history of bankruptcy.

It seems that Busan, Mayor Suh has already been persuaded.

He said that he liked the plan and called on the central government to make a revision of the casino-related laws.

Korea is one of the last remaining attractive destinations for casino giants who are running out of places to set up new operations.

Most recently, Chow Tai Fook in Hong Kong signed a $2.6 billion deal with Incheon Metropolitan City to build a comprehensive resort that has a foreigner-only casino by 2022 in Yeongjong-do, 53 kilometers west of Seoul.

LOCZ Korea, a consortium between Chinese company Lippo and American company Ceasars Entertainment, will begin building a foreigner-only casino in Yeongjong-do later this year. Paradise Group, Korea's biggest resort and casino operator, has already begun building a foreigner-only casino in Yeongjong-do in November last year.

The danger is that if Las Vegas Sands Corp. gets its way and builds a casino that is open to Koreans, many more would surely follow.

Plus, Singapore is a police state with democratic trappings so full comparisons can't be applied to conditions in Korea.

Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean an absolute "no" to any casino offer. Rather, a cool-headed assessment on the pros and cons should be made over an ample period of time before any firm decision is made.

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