Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cashless Gamble in Limbo

On Monday we blogged about a casino bar that seemed to have tacit government approval to open in Sanya on Hainan Island.

It was going to operate on the premise that gamblers had to buy points to put wagers and use the accumulated points to pay for accommodation or buy luxury goods including artwork.

However, Jesters is now a dud as the mainland authorities have shut down the project.

"We have shut the entertainment bar," said Chen Guangfa, deputy director of the Sanya Culture and Sports Bureau. We are investigating it and, so far, it looks like they have violated their operating regulations.

"When we approved it, the regulations and the certificate said its operations would be entertainment in nature, but inside the bar there are some games, and they've gone beyond the scope of the regulations, so we closed it down."

She did not say if the activities constituted gambling, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Owner of Jesters at the Mangrove Tree Resort Zhang Baoquan had said that the government was monitoring the concept of a cashless casino. "Our casino bar is the first in the country. The government is monitoring; it's a test," he said.

However, afterward the authorities in Sanya said they never allowed any form of gambling and shut the bar down, pending a probe by local police.

The resort is trying to spin the closure saying it was due to faulty air conditioning. "It has been closed for maintenance," said Belinda Chen, a public relations executive at Mangrove Tree.

So what's the deal? Did Zhang go ahead and open the casino bar with a cashless concept thinking officials would turn a blind eye? Or did they give him the green light but then got nervous when he started publicizing the concept behind Jesters?

Either way we're going to have to wait and see what happens to Zhang and his cashless casino -- depending on how good his guanxi is and whether Sanya officials are trying to look like they're doing their job cracking down on what they may think Communist Party leader Xi Jinping believes are inappropriate activities in light of his anti-corruption drive.

This case is definitely one to watch -- as MGM and Caesars are both looking on with interest. Why open in Sanya when you can't have casinos? Or is this an expensive marketing campaign to entice would-be gamblers to Macau and Las Vegas?

Stay tuned.

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