Crown Casino Demands Aussie Govt Lift Game For Asian High Rollers

Written by:
Greg Tingle
Published on:

G'day punters, journos, high rollers - casino whale VIP's, gambling millionaires and billionaires, poker sharks, entertainment and arts news junkies, media tycoons, politicians, insiders, outsiders, legal eagles... one and all. You know who you are. Oriental high rolling VIP's, all 200 plus of them, are the world's most sought after casino clients, and James Packer's Crown Limited is demanding that the Australian government life their own game to help ensure the whales will come swimming (and jetting) to Australia. Media Man and Gambling911 with this high rolling report...

Casino and gambling big wigs have started to force the hand of the federal Government to streamline customs and immigration processing for Oriental high rolling whales flying down under into Australia.

James Packer's Crown Casino, and now Burswood and floating 'Infinity' wants visas made much easier to obtain, more frequent direct flights from Asia and VIP customs lounges at airports so high rolling gamblers can bypass those long queues.

Crown's chief executive Rowen Craigie advised the press the enhancements were absolutely necessary if Australia hopes to plug into the extremely lucrative middle and upper-class Chinese tourism market.

"They are the sort of issues we want to talk about with the federal Government,"  Craigie said, noting high-rollers wanted first-class treatment (in all aspects of their visit.)

In Singapore, where two world class casino resorts worth $11 billion opened last year, the Government has built a private lounge to fast-track customs and immigration processing for high-rollers. Officials meet and greet VIPs at the air-bridge and escort them through the process, then casino valets and porters arrive.

"It needs to be competitive," Craigie said. "At the moment, it's not."

Craigie welcomed the review that the Government announced last month into education visas. He said a similar process needed to be applied to tourist visas.

In another ultra competitive sector, higher education, the industry won the review into education visa processing after complaining that lack of access was discouraging students from studying in Australia. A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen would not commit to reviewing tourist visas.

Some insiders say the Immigration Department and some casinos have long-standing, prior arrangements for certain VIPs to access slightly more streamlined immigration processing.

"Australia's migration and visa programs are global and non-discriminatory," the spokeswoman said. "Where possible (we) offer streamlined processing to low-risk clients, primarily through electronic visas but also through preferred processing of applications lodged through trusted agents, as occurs in China."

Packer mate, Sir Richard Branson, king of Virgin (airline included) has casino whales on his radar, however its unclear if RB will be going after the sector this year. Packer's other Brit mate, Damian Aspinal, earlier this week advised he would be closing his Aspinall's (land based) casino, which can't have given the sector much of a confidence boost, but it might have lifted the confidence levels of gamblers, with gamblers obviously chipping away at the profits by winning. And we all thought the house always wins! Well, maybe it does, but Aspinall's house is down. Packer won't want the same luck, nor will Branson.

Stay tuned for more on the high rolling VIP's and Crown Casino management wish list.

Sneak Peak Into The World Of Oriental Casino Whales And High Rollers...

The king of the Oriental casino whales, Stanley Ho, has been in the news a lot lately, so we thought it was timely to offer the loyal readership a glimpse into the world of a whale and his pool of Asia high rollers, who by the way James Packer's Crown Casino (and Tabcorp's Star City) just to be fair, are looking to lure down under to Australia.

This is Lifestyle of the rich (and often not so famous). They don't want to be that well known outside their inner circle casino and poker dens of choice. They are the world's real casino whales and super VIP's. 

Stanley Ho is one of the world's most powerful casino super whales, and he's got about 200 other whales to keep satisfied.  Australian gambling entrepreneurs are looking for a greater bite of the whales swimming the ocean, and one needs to have the best lure, bait and service to ensure the whale clientele keep coming back for more.

It's the high stakes world of casino and poker tourism, and competition for the gambling and entertainment dollar has never been tougher.

They jet in for free on a $40 million Gulfstream, direct from Shanghai. The family of three is whisked from the airport in a limousine to villa valued at $27,000 a night and occupying the entire 38th floor at Melbourne's Crown Towers.

A team of staff, including a butler and chef, just meet just about any request the whale will have.

On Level 39 just about anything can happen, if the whale desires. There's gaming salons, all private, a croupier, cards and a wooden pallet are at the table. Officially betting limits are $300,000 per hand, but by special arrangement, this high roller could punt $1 million or more on a single hand of baccarat. He's one of the new US-dollar billionaires of China, a group that jumped by double last year. China is  home to about 200 billionaires, second only to the United States, sitting on 403.

Casinos from Sydney, to Melbourne, to Macau to Singapore and Las Vegas are investing billions to secure a good part of this rapidly expanding sector. In Australia, the two biggest casino operators, Crown Limited and Tabcorp are spending $1.9 billion and $1.6 billion respectively on their gaming venues across four states. You could call it cash burn on the casinos part, but the rewards can be high for winning casino operators, where money (and world class service and entertainment) are the name of the game.

New six-star hotels, private jets, entertainment rooms, private gaming salons and dozens of celebrity-chef restaurants are all part of the extreme makeovers designed to make the likes of Star City, Crown Melbourne, Perth's Burswood, and Jupiters on the Gold Coast mega entertainment and tourism destinations. James Packer even has his 'Infinity' yacht ready for them off the coast of Western Australia.

The last Kerry Packer was once the king of the whales and only a few casinos in Las Vegas would accommodate him, thanks to his ability to break a casino, if lady luck went his way, and if often did.  

Today, high rollers, most of them from China, also play hard and millions of dollars can pass across the table in an hour or two.

"I wouldn't call it war," Crown boss Rowen Craigie said.

"But obviously there's major investments in integrated resorts."

Integrated resorts is a term now frequently used by the newest player on the block, Singapore, to describe the mega entertainment and tourism complexes it has built around casinos. Singapore saw the boom coming, and threw out gambling restrictions in 2004 to invite private investment of $US11 billion in two super ambitious gaming, hotel and convention resorts.

The effect on inbound tourism was virtually immediate, increasing by 22% since Marina Bay Sands and Resort World Sentosa opened in the past year. "When it comes to tackling tourism from China, you have to look at what Singapore is doing," Craigie said.

At Marina Bay Sands, which cost $US6 billion, daily gaming revenue hit $4.5 million late last year, after the mid-2010 opening. It came at a cost to casinos elsewhere, with Crown's VIP revenues at its Melbourne and Perth casinos in the first six months of this financial year taking a hit, down 10% or about $35 million.

Crown's chairman James Packer used the company's AGM late last year to call for state and federal governments to change their attitude from ignoring to instead promoting casinos in official domestic and international tourism campaigns. Packer would like to see heavy private investment in "integrated resorts" matched by government backing in the form of marketing, improved visa access and procedures for VIPs and other gamblers and more direct flights from Asia.

In Singapore, high rollers are greeted by officials at Changi airport, and escorted through a private lounge for fast-tracked customs and immigration formalities. The Singaporean government actively promotes the two resorts through a special branch within its tourism authority. The resorts are a crucial part of the national campaign to rebrand Singapore as a fun place to be.

Packer told the AGM in November "I believe that Australia needs to meet the challenges and capture the opportunities that the fast growing tourism markets from Asia are presenting to this country. In order to progress this, I truly believe that it will be necessary for federal and state governments, the broader tourism industry and key Asian-focused tourism operators such as Crown to work more closely together."

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen would not commit to reviewing tourist visas for gamblers. "Australia's migration and visa programs are global and non-discriminatory," the spokeswoman said.

Cashed-up Chinese tourists want to gamble, but they also want to experience the finer things in life, Craigie said. Their preference is for urban attractions, so Uluru, Sydney's beaches and the Great Barrier Reef are not enough.

"You need urban tourist attractions, not just natural resource tourist attractions," Craigie said.

At Singapore's Marina Bay Sands conventions of up to 45,000 delegates can be accommodated, there are 2,560 hotel rooms and suites and a SkyPark which sits like a gigantic ship's deck stretched atop three high-rise towers. The Iron Chef of America Mario Batali, is one of a handful of world-class celebrity chefs running restaurants in the complex. There's an art and science museum and in coming weeks theatre guests can take their pick of The Lion King, Elvis Costello or Slumdog Millionaire's AR Rahman.

In lifting gambling bans in 2004, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong withstood considerable community pressure, including claims that the casinos would cost Singaporean families more than $500 million a year due to problem gambling. Locals are taxed $S100 a day to gamble in the casinos.

In 2005 Lee said: "The great majority will not go there to gamble. They will be tourists, executives or businessmen who go to enjoy the resort of attend conventions or conferences."

Tabcorp backs Packer and Crown's sentiment on the need for casinos and government co-operation to boost tourism. Crown customer research found that its clients venture out of the complex to enjoy other tourist attractions during their visit, spending about $40 million (check) outside the Crown site every year.

Tabcorp is spending almost $1 billion upgrading Sydney's Star City and another $625 billion upgrading its three casinos in Queensland. "I absolutely believe Star City will boost tourism," Star's managing director Sid Vaikunta told Agenda.

In Sydney, Tabcorp is making its first serious play for the high roller and luxury tourism market, which for Crown Casino, the market leader on VIPs, means the first real domestic competition.

High rollers collectively plunged $28 billion on Australian gaming tables in the first six months of last year. Tabcorp's share was 16 per cent, or $4.48 billion. Across the 12 months to June 2010, VIP turnover at Crown's two casinos in Melbourne and Perth was $40 billion.

"Our goal is to grow the market," Vaikunta said. The biggest gaming revenue day of the year at Star is Christmas Day and Star's intention with the redevelopment is to continue to look after its main audience of local gamblers, while opening up a new market of VIPs and rich tourists.

"We believe in the city, it has charisma, and we want it to reach that potential, as a charismatic city," Vaikunta said. "We are spending almost $1 billion and a large part of that is a trade-up in quality."

Over the next year or so a new luxury 172-room hotel will open and among the six celebrity chefs fronting 20 new restaurants are David Chang from New York, master of modern Italian Stefano Manfedi and Masterchef star Adriano Zumbo. Last week Star spent the first half of a $100 million budget for two private jets for VIPs: a Bombardier Global Express XRS.

Vaikunta said the exclusive A-list concert with Bon Jovi at Star City in December last year was a taste of things to come, when a $100-million, 3000-seat events centre is completed next year (2012). Take any big act that toured Australia last year - Lady Gaga, ACDC, Guns N Roses - and this is the calibre of musical exclusive the casino hopes to sell, at a premium price, in this new venue, he said.

The complex is being re-orientated to face the harbour, with floor to ceiling glass, outdoor gaming and balconies. Inside will be significantly changed from the windowless maze of gaming rooms that Star has been lampooned for in the past. Also going is the dated and gawdy tropical oasis display and in its place will be chandeliers and contemporary furniture.

Vaikunta hopes that in return the state and federal governments will promote Star, and give it more poker machine licenses. While no formal proposal on increasing poker machine licenses had been put to the NSW Government or opposition, Vaikunta pointed out that Crown Melbourne had 2500 poker machines, about 1000 more than Star. QLD Premier Anna Bligh recently gave the go ahead to increase by 500 the number of poker machines in two of Tabcorp's 3 QLD casinos. The Victorian Government last year gave Crown Melbourne the green light to add another 150 new gaming tables.

Macau, the only Chinese territory where gaming is legal, has just overtaken Las Vegas as the world's biggest destination for gamblers. In recent years $A17 billion has been invested in casino resorts and monthly gross casino revenue hit $US2.4 billion in December. Annual gross gaming revenue hit a record $23.5 billion, trumping Las Vegas strip takings by four fold, according to analysts. Visitors to the modest sized province have increased from 9.5 million in 2001 to more than 23 million.

Singapore is forecast to become the gaming capital of the world by 2012 and national target for visitors is 17 million by 2015. In Australia, Packer told his AGM, tourist numbers had been flat for a decade at around 5 million people.

Packer must be sorry his bid to develop one of the Singapore casinos failed. But he is tipped to raise his hand again, when other markets open up overseas. Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines are all considering "integrated resort" developments.

Stay tuned for more on the super whales and high rolling VIP's, and if you can't wait for the next plane, feel welcome to browse the casino games and reviews on the website. You don't get a butler online, but at least its private. Might be just the thing to get you in the mood to visit Crown's super whale offerings down under in Melbourne, or take your gambling to a new level of Packer's 'Infinity' floating casino.

Crown Limited and Australian government departments - your throw of the dice. No bluff!

Take the time to research and learn games before placing down money

Media Man Casino News Media and Gambling911 are website portals. Not casinos as such, however are recognised as world leading websites that cover the sector and act as central points to games, news, reviews and more.

Readers... er, punters, how did you like our report? Tell us in the forum. 

If you have a bet, please bet with your head, not over it, and for God's sake, have fun.

*Greg Tingle is a special contributor for Gambling911

*Media Man is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company. Gaming is just one of a dozen sectors covered

*the writer owns shares in Crown Limited, Virgin Blue and Ten Network Holdings

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