In China, the tropical island of Hainan could soon be transformed into a gamblers paradise due to a recent court ruling possibly opening up the way for its local resorts to begin running ‘entertainment bars.’
According to a Monday report from the Bloomberg news service, ‘entertainment bars’ are similar to casinos but only permit players to receive their winnings in the form of credits that must be spent at local restaurants, hotels and shops. The Sanya Bay Mangrove Resort Hotel purportedly premiered the first such credit-only facility on the island about five years ago but was forced to close soon after amid claims that it violated China’s strict anti-gambling laws.
However, a Hainan court disagreed in December by ruling that ‘entertainment bars’ do not violate the law, which set off a flurry of activity among local resorts on the island of some 8.2 million people. Bloomberg detailed that at least five native venues have already drawn up blueprints for their very own credit-only gaming operations while others have contacted baccarat table suppliers to discuss purchases.
The ruling has also been followed by several groups affiliated with the central government partnering to launch a trial of the points-based Hainan International Tourism Island Sports and Gaming Entertainment Project smartphone app. This innovation allows punters to place wagers on football and basketball contests using their WePay and AliPay accounts although any winning credits can only be spent at select venues located mainly on Hainan.
Ben Lee, a managing partner for Macau-based consultancy firm IGamiX, told Bloomberg that his firm has been working with Hainan developers for about a decade and that ‘entertainment bars’ are certain to encourage ‘mainlanders who have never been overseas to try gaming.’
“From our conversations with people on the ground, they are positively excited about the changes that appear to be coming through soon,” Lee reportedly told the news service. “We may see more interesting developments in the next five to ten years.”
Bloomberg reported that Macau is the only Chinese territory where casinos are permitted but local entrepreneurs are betting that the nation’s central government will now allow ‘entertainment bars’ as a way to grow the economy of Hainan, which is often referred to as ‘China’s Hawaii’ with its economy heavily reliant on agriculture and fishing.
“The government will face challenges to decide its attitude towards a gambling-themed model,” read a statement from Margaret Huang, a Hong Kong-based analyst with the news service’s Bloomberg Intelligence research arm. “The balance between regulation and economic development is hard.”
Located 19 miles off China’s southern coast and about 1,700 miles from Beijing, Hainan was designated as a ‘special economic zone’ in 1988 and Bloomberg reported that the central government has since been attempting to transform the island into a major tourist destination. It detailed that ‘entertainment bars’ would most likely appeal to casual players that did not want to travel overseas with their high-rolling counterparts continuing to venture to casinos further afield including those in Macau, Singapore and the Philippines.
“It’s now a consensus among companies and businessmen in Hainan, the expectation is for looser policies and a more open business environment to build Hainan into an international tourism and consumption destination,” Liu Feng, Director for the Hainan Normal University Free Trade Port Research Center, told Bloomberg.