Sheldon Adelson Wants to Build a North Korean Casino
On the heels of President Donald Trump’s historic summit in Singapore with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un last month, reports have surfaced that Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson wants to build a North Korean casino. According to a recent report in New York Mag, Adelson, a friend of Trump’s made reference to the economic potential of North Korea.
After the Trump/Kim summit, Donald Trump talked of North Korean hotels and casino resorts. He said, “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.”
Sheldon Adelson, who served in the US Army at age 18 in the Korean War, said at a public charity event in Israel in early July that he wished North Korea and South Korea would sign an armistice to bring the Korean War officially to an end.
Speaking of his time fighting on the Korean Peninsula, Sheldon Adelson said he hoped to visit again — to open one of his casinos.
Kim Visits Marina Bay Sands
Kim Jong-un visited one of Adelson’s resorts while he was in Singapore: The Marina Bay Sands. Those who watched television coverage might have noticed the three-towered resort in many of the television shots. During his tour of the city, Kim was noted to have visited the $8 billion Marina Bay Sands, which has an infinity pool on the top of the resort — 1,120 feet above ground.
People might think North Korea would be the worst place for a holiday resort, especially in the wake of the Otto Wambier tragedy. Yet Kim Jong-un has taken several steps in the past few years to encourage a tourism economy — and a gambling economy.
Kim Jong-un’s Tourism Industry
For instance, Kim approved the development of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist zone, located 112 miles (180 kilometers) from the capital of Peongyang. Kim also tried several times to lure investors in casino cruises — and has several mothballed casino cruise ships ready to take customers.
The problem is the crippling sanctions North Korea has. Foreign investors have to consider whether they will face sanctions. At the same time, when many of the hard commodities and foreign goods are being sanctioned, services and tourism are a better way for the cash-strapped regime to generate revenues.
2018 US-North Korea Relations
Another problem is the volatile nature of the American and North Korean leaders. When Kim Jong-un threatened the US Overseas Territory of Guam earlier this year, Donald Trump called Kim the mocking nickname “Rocketman” and threatened “fire and fury” on North Korea if its leader continued to make threats.
Then in Singapore, the two signed a non-binding agreement to cooperate on de-nuclearization. Within weeks, the two sides began to disagree what the term “denuclearization” means. After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a follow-up visit to North Korea, the North Korean representatives indicated the meeting did not go well. In fact, they accused the United States of using “gangster-like” tactics.
Undeterred, Mike Pompeo sent a clear message to Peongyang when his made a speech in Vietnam. Comparing the economic progress of former US adversary Vietnam to North Korea’s potential economic awekening, Pompeo said, “In light of the once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership we have with Vietnam today, I have a message for chairman Kim Jong Un: President Trump believes your country can replicate this path.”
US Leaders’ Economic Development Plans
American leaders, both on the business and political side, tend to overestimate the influence of economic factors on foreign leaders’ thoughts. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, at the height of the Vietnam War, thought he could buy Ho Chi Mihn’s friendship with a vast economic development package of North Vietnam. LBJ offered a program as ambitious as “the Tennessee Valley Authority“ — yet Ho Chi Mihn turned him down cold.
Later, Richard Nixon made similar offers, which also were rebuffed. The North Vietnamese considered them insulting, as if they could be bought off with a few economic concessions. That hasn’t stopped US leaders trying similar methods in the years since. During the Clinton Years, US leaders tried to buy Russian friendship by pushing McDonald’s franchises in the former Soviet Union. George W. Bush thought big building projects in Afghanistan would make friendships, yet the village leaders said the Americans never asked if the locals wanted those projects or not.
So while it is a warm thought that Sheldon Adelson might invest in a North Korean integrated casino-resort, it is a long way from happening. While Kim Jong-un wants to get around sanctions, that might not mean he really wants many foreign tourists in his country. North Korea is called the “Hermit Kingdom” for a reason; that reason is the Kim family needs to keep its people isolated from outside news and outside influences.
Speedboats and Skyscrapers
Despite Sheldon Adelson’s passing interest, Las Vegas Sands appears to be more focused on other countries. Ron Reese, an LVS spokesman, said in a follow-up to Sheldon Adelson’s remarks in Israel, “I’m sure a lot of American companies would feel even better about doing business in South Korea if the situation with the North was resolved. Bottom line, the company’s interest remains in South Korea.”
Still, Donald Trump has visions of skyscrapers and speedboats along the North Korean coastline. Trump recently said, “As an example, they have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo? And I explained, I said, you know, instead of doing that you could have the best hotels in the world right there.”