Asian casinos will try just about anything to attract Chinese gamblers

Vincent Yu  / Associated Press

Mainland Chinese visitors gather at the lobby of the Galaxy casino in Macau

Bloomberg (by Liza Lin):

At the oceanfront Ramada Plaza hotel on South Korea’s Jeju island, about a hundred Chinese gamblers huddle around felt-topped tables, wagering as much as 5 million won ($4,500) at baccarat. Shouts in Mandarin — “Beautiful!”, “Good!” — ring out as bettors with winning hands slam their cards on the green table-tops.

Asian casino operators from South Korea to Australia are pulling in China’s gamblers as the country’s corruption crackdown scares many away from Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub. They are capitalizing on a downturn in the city’s gaming industry, which last month suffered its worst drop ever.

Operators such as Paradise Co. in South Korea are hiring Mandarin-speaking staff and offering VIP treatment including free flights, limousines and hotel stays to big spenders. Echo Entertainment Group Ltd. of Sydney and NagaCorp Ltd. in Cambodia cater to the junket operators who organize trips for Chinese gamblers with perks such as higher commissions, lower taxes and private jets.

Premium mass players can be recognized as VIP players and treated better than in Macau,” said Lee Hyuk-Byung, vice chairman of Paradise, in an interview in Seoul. “And we have other attractions in Korea such as culture, fashion, food.”

Macau casino revenue fell last year for the first time and may decline another 8 percent this year, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. By contrast, South Korea and the Philippines will grow 16 percent and 33 percent respectively this year, gaining from the spillover of Chinese gamblers, Deutsche Bank analyst Karen Tang wrote in a note.

Plastic Surgeons

President Xi Jinping has urged Macau, the only place in China where casinos are legal, to diversify from gambling. Macau’s government imposed more scrutiny over junket operators, as mass market gambling also weakened amid China’s economic slowdown, and new restrictions on visas and cigarette smoking.

The anti-corruption measures are discouraging some people from traveling to Macau, and as a result we are seeing a slight shift in travel from Macau to other destinations,” said Aaron Fischer, a Hong Kong-based analyst at CLSA Ltd. “Vietnam and Philippines will likely benefit as they are the closest. Korea will pick up people in the northern parts of China.”

Gamblers who bet at least $50,000 at Paradise’s casinos qualify for freebies usually available only to VIP players, Lee said. In Macau, the minimum needed to get similar perks from junket operators is about $500,000, according to CLSA data. The company also draws Chinese gamblers to the celebrity-obsessed country by touting its pop culture and offering recommendations of top Korean plastic surgeons, Lee said.

Operators have more risqué offerings too. A gambler who exchanges 300,000 yuan ($48,000) worth of chips can receive free flights to Jeju, tours with a Mandarin-speaking guide, and the companionship of a “third-tier” Korean actress or model, according to an e-mailed brochure from Shanghai-based tour operator CNS. A CNS travel agent, who would only give her name as “Xiao Qi”, confirmed the services when contacted by phone.

Shanghai and Shenyang

It’s illegal for foreign companies to advertise casino operations in China and Paradise avoids public solicitations, Lee said. Its staff reaches out to high-stakes gamblers recommended by existing customers and makes frequent trips to major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, he added.

Companies are able to sidestep China’s ban on casino marketing by advertising non-gaming aspects such as a concert or entertainment show held on its venue, said Grant Govertsen, an analyst at Union Gaming Group in Macau.

Junket operators own restaurants, night clubs, they sponsor golf tournaments and other getaways,” Govertsen said in an interview. “There is plenty of stuff a junket could advertise in a mass-market sort of format.”

Still, foreign operators’ efforts to attract China’s gamblers have caught the notice of local authorities, which announced last month a crackdown on representative offices that “attract and recruit Chinese citizens” to casinos.

Peking Duck

Manila’s members-only Signature Club in Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd.’s City of Dreams casino has entrance signs in both English and Chinese, while Mandarin-speaking staff direct guests to cashiers, shops, and restaurants. The neighboring Solaire Resort and Casino owned by Bloomberry Resorts Corp. has suckling pig and Peking duck on the menu, catering to Chinese palates.

There are a lot of excuses to go the Philippines; we always promote the Philippines not on the casino but the whole package,” Cristino Naguiat, chairman at gaming regular Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp., said in an interview.

Even with the crackdown in China, we still had higher volume in terms of gross gaming revenue and in terms of junket and VIPs,” he said last month in Manila.

Too Many Chinese

South Korea is preparing to welcome more Chinese gamblers after tourist arrivals from the country rose last year to 6.1 million, with new casinos planned including at Incheon Airport.

On Jeju island, junket operators have set up shop to offer gambling chips on loan, a service common in Macau that helps bettors sidestep China’s limits on taking currency out of the country.

Competition between the island’s eight foreigner-only casinos has led to a flourishing of more than 100 unlicensed junket operators and their agents on the island, said Seo Won- Seok, a hotel and tourism management professor at Kyunghee University in Seoul.

As Chinese gamblers become more important, there’s a need to better regulate the growth of the junket operators that bring them, he said.

Our casino industry may be too dependent on the Chinese market and that means there is always risk from China’s government policy,” Seo said. “I think that’s the downside — too many Chinese in Korea.”

 

 

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Parents of Japanese woman abducted by North Korea meet their granddaughter for first time

 

Shigeru Yokota (L) looks on as his wife Sakie (R) answers questions during a press conference in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo, on March 17, 2014.  The ageing parents of their daughter Megumi, who was kidnapped in 1977 by North Korean agents and taken to North Korea as a schoolgirl and allegedly died there, met with Megumi's daughter Kim Eun-Gyong for the first time and spent five days last week in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator.

Shigeru Yokota (L) looks on as his wife Sakie (R) answers questions during a press conference in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo, on March 17, 2014. The ageing parents of their daughter Megumi, who was kidnapped in 1977 by North Korean agents and taken to North Korea as a schoolgirl and allegedly died there, met with Megumi’s daughter Kim Eun-Gyong for the first time and spent five days last week in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator.

TOKYO – The parents of a Japanese woman abducted by North Korea in 1977 were allowed to see their North Korean-born granddaughter for the first time last week at a secret meeting in Mongolia, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

The meeting in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator, between the parents of Megumi Yokota, who disappeared in Japan on her way home from school when she was 13, and her daughter, Kim Eun-gyong, now 26, according to Japanese news media, appeared to be a goodwill gesture by North Korea toward Japan.

Yokota, who died in 1994, according to North Korea, has been the subject of foreign and Japanese documentary films and also manga comics, making her perhaps the best-known of more than a dozen Japanese citizens known to have been kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s.

The ministry said her parents, Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, 81 and 78, met Kim for several days last week, though it provided few details. Yokota’s former husband, Kim Young-nam, a South Korean who was also kidnapped by the North, may have also been present, according to Japan’s Kyodo News Agency.

The Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, quoted unnamed government officials as saying that Kim’s young child – the Yokotas’ great-grandchild – was also present. The age and sex of the child were not provided.

Japanese news media said the meeting was agreed upon during informal talks between Japanese and North Korean officials this month in Shenyang, China. Those talks, on the sidelines of a meeting of the two nations’ Red Cross societies, were aimed at restarting an official dialogue between the two estranged nations, which was frozen after North Korea launched a large rocket over Japan in December 2012.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan has reached out to North Korea, sending a top aide to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, last year in an effort to resolve lingering questions over the fate of the abductees. A breakthrough on this issue could open the way for the resumption of talks toward normalizing relations. Those talks were disrupted a decade ago, when North Korea first admitted to Junichiro Koizumi, then Japan’s prime minister and Abe’s political mentor, that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens.

 

AP Photo/Kyodo News, File

Kim Un Kyong, who’s Japanese mother Megumi Yokota was adducted by North Korea in 1977, is moved to tears while speaking about her Japanese grandparents, Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, during a press conference at a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea. Japan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Sunday, March 16, 2014, that Shigeru Yokota and his wife Sakie spent spent time with their Korean-born granddaughter Kim, for the first time over several days last week in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Kim is 26 years old, Japanese media said.

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Parents of Japanese woman abducted by North Korea meet their granddaughter for first time

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Artist Profile: Nudes by Yu Xiaodong

 

Juxtapoz: 
Yu Xiaodong was born in 1963 in Shenyang, China. He was raised in a city environment but at eight years old went to live with his grandparents in the countryside. Yu’s grandfather, a painter himself, encouraged his grandson’s interest in art.
Stylistically speaking, he cites the important effects the disparate work of Northern Renaissance master painter and printmaker Albrecht Düurer (1471-1528), Spanish Baroque court painter Diego Velasquez (1599-1660), Dutch genre painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), 19th century Russian realist Ilya Efimovich Repin (1844-1930), French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) and German Expressionist printmaker and sculptor, Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) have had on his painting style.
It is a distinctive style that incorporates the devoted attention to light, shadow, color, detail and line quality that have characterized the work of these European artists throughout the centuries. ‘
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