Asian casino industry has big plans for Chinese

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The Independent Online

Tourism figures emanating from China are going through the roof and Asia's gaming destinations are hoping to be the first to return rich dividends from the trend.

First there was Macao - which opened the floodgates when it relaxed regulations on gaming licenses in 2001. The tiny enclave now annually reaps more than US$1.5 billion (1.2 billion euros) from its gaming industry, and work is continuing on a number of new casinos, expected to open in the first quarter of 2011.

Macao's tourism authorities have just announced that arrivals figures in June were up 30.6 percent, year on year - with 1,904,395 people entering the city. What's more, mainland Chinese visitor numbers jumped by 62.6 percent over the month, totaling 377,491.

Not to be outdone, of course, Singapore has got in on the act this year, with the second of its two first, brand new casinos - the US$5.5 billion (4.3 billion euros) Marina Bay Sands - opening just last month.

Resorts World Sentosa - the first casino in Singapore, which opened in January - says it is now on track to meet predictions of 13 million visitors over its first full year of operations.

And when Singapore tourismauthorities last released arrival figures - after May - there were big cheers all around. Growth of 30.3 percent year on year meant the busiest May on record for the island state with around 946,000 visitors heading in to town, with 72,000 of them coming from mainland China.

And now the latest country wanting to get in on the act is Cambodia, with Chinese media this week reporting on plans for a US$400 million (310 million euros) casino to be set in the fields of Siem Reap - the town famous for the ruins of Angkor Wat.

And if you thought there might be any confusion at all over which specific tourism market developers Intercity Group were targeting, guess again.

"The biggest players in the region tend to be from China,'' said an Intercity spokesman, laying all chance of doubt to rest.

The China Tourism Academy estimates 54 million Chinese tourists will head overseas this year, up from 47 million in 2009.