IAG FEBRUARY 2017 web - page 8

inside
asiangaming
February2017
8
Cover Story
insiders disagree on his role. His aunt, Cui Limei, is the registered
owner of Hengsheng’sMacau branch. Hismother, Cui Lijie, holds
some93billion IPI sharesandoptions, equal to65%of outstanding
sharesandvaluedatmore thanUS$1billion.Mr Ji owns71.5million
shares and holds rights to 128 billion shares through a convertible
bond issue.
When the family took over then-First Natural Foods Holdings
in late 2013 as parallel efforts to legalize casinos in Saipan and win
the license began (the name change to Imperial Pacific International
happened in 2014) many characterized it as a backdoor listing of
Hengsheng. IPI had a profit sharing deal with Hengsheng that it
voided in 2015 as Macau’s VIP revenue imploded amid Chinese
President Xi Jinping’s corruption crackdown that had high rollers
shunningMacau.
“Saipan offered the advantage of being well away from the
intrusiveoversight that was being appliedby thePRCgovernment to
high rollers,” Newpage Consulting Principal David Green, a former
gaming regulator inAustralia, observes. It alsooffered commissions
up to 1.4%, compared with 1.25% in Macau, and recently received
authorization to raise commissions to 1.8%.
Saipanhasothercharms,startingwithvisa-freeentry formainland
Chinese visitors, a remnant of CNMI’s formerly independent
immigration and customs that, along with previously autonomous
labor rules, made it a center for sweatshops producing garments
with “Made inUSA” labels.
Of last year’s estimated 500,000 visitors, 40%were fromChina,
with a similar number fromSouthKorea and about 15% from Japan,
once CNMI’s market leader. Saipan may be more than four hours
by air from any significant population center, but formuch of China
(and Japan and Korea), it’s closer than Singapore or tropical beach
destinations such asBali or Phuket.
AMERICAN IDYLL
Roughly 1.5 times the size of Macau, Saipan has clean air and clear
water, plus a unique combination of tropical activities from surfing
to golf, World War II historic sites, Pacific island culture and retro
American beach town charm. The US connection is a key selling
point for Chinese tourists, especially high rollers.
“Saipan is part of the USA, with good laws and regulation of a
USA standard,”MacauGaming InformationAssociationChairman
“Twoof threebondofferingmanagers
droppedoutafteravisit toSaipanraised
doubts that IPI’s sweetheartdeal, including
a40yearexclusive casino licensewithno
gaming tax,will remain intact.”
Saipan’s stunningnatural surroundings
make it an idyllicdrawcard forAsian tourists
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