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NEWS 9 July 2018

Is North Korea’s casino plan a shot in the dark?

By Caroline Byrne

Las Vegas Sands Corp CEO Sheldon Adelson is reportedly hoping to expand the company’s Asia operations to include an unlikely destination: North Korea.

Adelson, believed to be worth more than $40bn, gave a speech during a Taglit-Birthright Israel event in June in which he said he hoped US President Donald Trump would get “north and south Korea to finish the war” so Adelson could “open up business”. The speech was reported by Casino News Daily on Sunday.

The idea may not be as preposterous as it first sounds. The Las Vegas Sands Corp already operates in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau, and is planning to bid on one of Japan’s three licenses should a casino bill before the Upper House pass this month. Adelson was also one of US President Donald Trump’s main sponsors during the 2016 presidential campaign.

When Trump – a former casino operator in Atlantic City – arranged his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, the US President spoke about the potential of North Korean property, telling reporters: “Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea, you have China, and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that, right? It’s great.”

Kim also had property on his mind during the historic summit in Singapore, visiting Marina Bay Sands, one of Adelson’s hotel casinos.

According to the newspaper Donga Ilbo, Kim Yong Choi, North Korea’s deputy chairman of the Korean Workers' Party, has asked the US to invest in its tourism sector in exchange for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Specifically, North Korea asked Trump for funds to build a casino and other tourist sites in the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist zone.

Kim has ordered completion of North Korea’s Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist zone by April 2019. The zone, about 180km from Pyongyang, includes three miles of sand, oak and pine forests and modern hotels.

But would tourists flock to a casino based in a country that has paraded its nuclear weapons and, only months ago, threatened nuclear war?

It may be the world’s biggest long shot.  



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