Have you ever come across a five-star hotel reporting breakeven results within three months of opening, and doing so even while one of its wings was still under construction?
That was the feat managed by Mangrove Tree Resort World. Its business secret? Start up a casino, albeit an illegal one.
WiC readers may remember the resort in Yalong Bay in Hainan’s Sanya. As we reported last year, the hotel unveiled a 50-table ‘casino bar’ that allowed punters to buy tickets for Rmb500 ($83) in return for bonus points. They were then able to gamble these points and winners could redeem prizes such as iPads and suitcases (see WiC183).
Following coverage in the foreign media, Sanya authorities then shut down the “cashless casino”.
Or as it turned out, perhaps they didn’t.
Undercover reporters from CCTV revisited the Yalong Bay Mangrove Tree last week. Not only was the casino still operating, it was much even more vibrant and offering services akin to Macau, the only place in China where casinos are allowed.
Points won at the tables could be used at two luxury shops nearby, offering items ranging from gold to rosewood furniture. And better still, shopkeepers were willing to buy the goods back for cash.
“We are in a strategic relationship with the hotel,” an unwitting storeholder explained to CCTV. “Let’s say I sold you a rosewood chair for Rmb20,000. I guarantee I’ll buy it back for Rmb30,000 in five years.”
Other reports suggested that the shops will buy the goods back much more immediately – at a discount, of course.
Pundits can also pay for anything at the resort with their gaming points, which have become something of an underground currency. Rates are floating and traders offer to buy and sell. “Today’s rate is 0.68,” one moneychanger told a CCTV reporter.
The Mangrove Tree is a mega resort with more than 5,000 rooms (10 times that of a conventional five-star hotel). But the contribution from gaming seems substantial. One manager told CCTV that nearly 50% of the hotel’s revenues came from its casino. Senior executives have been brought in from Macau to help to run it, too.
CCTV’s report was soon prompting questions about why Sanya officials have allowed gaming to continue. “Tourists and reporters all know there is an illegal casino. How come the police and authorities don’t know anything,” the Workers’ Daily wondered.
And just like last year, the media blitz prompted another shutdown as local officials closed the casino’s doors, with several executives at the hotel reportedly detained.
No doubt the media will be back in a month or two to see whether the baccarat tables are buzzing once again.
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