Russia is placing bets that plans to build a gambling and entertainment zone near the port city of Vladivostok will lure investors who have spent big money on casinos for Asian gamblers in Macau and Singapore.
Vladivostok, located near China and known more for its oil and gas pipes, has been undergoing a facelift ahead of hosting an APEC summit in September.
It will, however, also face competition from Asian nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, which are setting up similar tourism and entertainment zones.
Russia's state-owned Nash Dom Primorye is set to announce at the Global Gaming Expo in Macau on Wednesday that it is seeking private investors and/or companies to build casino resorts in a six km square area near Vladivostok.
Vladivostok is one of four official Russian government zones where casino gambling is legal but is the only one that has formally initiated plans to lure foreign investors.
Known as the Integrated Entertainment Zone, the project has space for roughly five large resorts.
A report from Gaming Market Advisors, which conducts casino market research, estimates the zone could attract revenues of USD$2 billion to USD$7 billion when completed. By comparison, Singapore took in more than USD$5 billion in 2011.
Nash Dom Primorye has appointed Las Vegas-based Galaviz as lead strategic adviser for the tender.
The tender will be initiated in June, giving potential international operators 60 days to send in a pitch and budget estimates. The government will then enter into discussions with potential investors by the end of October.
Marina Lomakina, general director of Nash Dom, told reporters in an interview she hoped the zone would be fully completed within five years.
"We want companies who are well known and will help create amenities that are more than just casino gaming," she said, adding that the zone would require a total minimum investment of USD$2 billion from private investors looking to develop properties.
The master plan includes luxury hotels, a yacht club, shopping malls as well as outdoor sports such as golf.
The project, which will focus on drawing in Asian money, comes at a time when China's economy is slowing and Macau's once turbo-charged monthly growth rate is falling to near single digits.
Russians would also contribute to the total revenue spent in the Vladivostok zone, Lomakina said. Unlike Asian countries such as Vietnam where it is illegal for citizens to gamble, Russians are allowed to gamble in designated local zones.
"We hope most of the customers will be from China, as well as Korea, Japan and the United States. We have very strong ties with these countries and expect to have their interest in the project."
Vladivostok is two hours by plane from Seoul and Tokyo.
The Russian port city has invested USD$7 billion over the past five years to develop infrastructure, including a new airport, bridges that resemble San Francisco’s Golden Gate and a new university ahead of the APEC summit. It is constructing more roads and transport links for the resort zone.
Lomakina said she hoped that by using international best practices to develop the zone, other projects in Russia would also follow suit.
"Russia is growing more integrated into the world. We are aiming to become more understandable to foreign partners and help them do business that is not only in oil and gas but other businesses too."