In mere hours one of them most exciting new casino projects in recent times is set to open its doors to the public in a “soft launch”. Local and regional dignitaries as well as local press have already had their debut of Lawrence Ho’s latest global project; Tigre de Cristal, in the Primorsky Krai, about 50km (31 miles) from the free port of Vladivostok, Russia. Assuming last minute approvals have been tendered, the public will soon have a chance to walk the plush floors and marvel at the interior of the first of 8 casinos to open within four integrated resorts in the Primorye Integrated Entertainment Zone (IEZ).
The Primorye region is only one of six special “gambling zones” in the country, four of which were set up along with a massive closure of the Russian Federation’s casinos in 2009. At that point the World Casino Directory listed over 170 casino operations. One of the last two gambling zones added was Sochi, a location that had already received over 50 billion dollars of investments in infrastructure and development for the 2014 Winter Olympics. However Primorye will be the first to launch operations and has the best potential for immediate success due to its close proximity to hundreds of millions of gambling hungry Russians, Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans located within two hours of the entertainment zone.
Tigre de Cristal is headed up by CEO, Craig Ballantyne, a Scotsman who left the confines of the UK gambling business and relocated to Poland in the 1970’s. He then worked in the Ukraine, Russia, Romania, South Africa and Greece before associating with Macau gambling tycoon and son of legend Stanley Ho, Lawrence Ho Yau Lung. Ho controls Tigre de Cristal through G1 Entertainment (formerly First Gambling Company of the East) a subsidiary of Summit Ascent Holdings. Mr. Ho is also the majority shareholder in Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. and opened integrated resorts in Macau as well as The Philippines before Primorye, Russia. Another of his casinos, Studio City is also expected to open in Macau this month.
After the initial soft launch of Tigre de Cristal, a Grand Opening including the hotel will occur later this month. The project will open in phases with a final completion date of 2021. Phase I is expected to be in full swing within three to six months.
Although silence is understandable for a soft launch, the property has faced procurement and approval issues leading up to now with an initial opening planned for late last year, and postponements to April 2015, May, July, August, September, and a confident confirmation of October 8th.