Yang Zhihui Trades Legendary Casino for Jeju Shinwa Resort
Chinese tycoon Yang Zhihui recently turned a 200% profit on the famous London casino, Les Ambassadeurs in Mayfair. Now, Yang Zhihui is going all-in on his biggest investment yet: The $2.4 billion Jeju Shinhwa Resort.
Not everyone believes in the Jeju Shinhwa Resort, because it depends on a steady influx of foreigner visitors — especially Chinese high rollers. That is a problem for Yang Zhihui, due to international politics and economic tensions.
Yang believes it will all pay off in dramatic ways, which is why he sold Les Ambassadeurs — site of one of James Bond: 007’s famous casino scenes — for $350 million. He also sold for a profit a 19-passenger Bombardier Global 6000 jet he bought in 2013. The Bombardier jet had been used to transport VIP customers to Jeju Island for free.
Of course, Yang Zhihui had reasons to give high rollers free passage to Jeju Island, off the coast of South Korea. He has the largest development on the island, which is known as a foreigners-only gambling destination. Jeju Island offers gambling, shopping, fine dining, theme park entertainment, and many forms of leisure.
Jeju Shinwa Resort
Jeju Shinhwa Resort is a massive integrated casino-resort. In fact, Jeju Shinwa is more than a casino-resort. The complex has a theme park which is its main attraction. The Jeju Shinhwa development also has 5 hotels, including a Four Seasons and a Marriott.
The site is a wonder to behold. It includes a cafe designed by K-Pop star G-Dragon, along with 40 other restaurants, cafes, and bars. The resort includes a shopping mall, while the whole complex is enhanced with 3D holographic landscape features.
The remarkable part of Jeju Shinhwa might be the way Yang Zhihui has built up the resources to become the controlling owner.
Joint Venture with Genting
The Jeju Shinhwa Resort began as a joint venture with Genting Group, the Malaysian multinational conglomerate famous for its Resorts World casinos in Singapore, New York City, Manila, and (soon-to-be) Las Vegas.
In 2016, Yang’s casino company, Hong Kong-listed Landing International Development Ltd., bought out Genting’s share of the Jeju Shinhwa Resort. The plan was to open the resort in stages in April 2017. Most expected the casino-resort to be a smash hit, despite the foreigners-only policy.
The development had so much to draw mass market visitors, both from China and South Korea.
March 2017 Chinese Embargo
Then China’s President Xi Jinping began to make his displeasure known about the THAAD missile defense system, which the United States military was installing in the South Korea. The ostensible reason for the THAAD missile defense was the threat posed by North Korea’s unpredictable dictator, Kim Jong-un.
President Xi and his advisers believe the missile defense had a dual purpose: to pose a challenge to China’s growing and modernizing armed forces. To send a message, the Chinese government severely limited the movement of Chinese to South Korea. Businesses reliant on Chinese tourists suffered greatly.
The Chinese embargo could not have come at a worse time for Yang Zhihui and the Jeju Shinhwa Resort. Suddenly, a month before the first grand opening at the development, the main customer base was banned from visiting.
Jeju Shinwa Resort’s Wealthy Investors
Yang Zhihui is not alone in doubling down on his Jeju Island investment. Over the years, Yang Zhihui has developed an impressive list of investors in Landing International Development and the South Korean casino. Yao Jianhua, the brother of wealthy insurer Yao Zhenhua, is a key investor.
Yao’s well-funded China Goldjoy investment company increased its in Landing Development recently and is now a top shareholder. When asked about the investment, Yao JianHua said he believed in “China’s cultural tourism”.
Risky Casino Investment?
One would expect the tensions between China and South Korea to end eventually. This is no longer the Cold War; the two countries have been strengthening economic ties for years. South Korea and China now do 40 times the trade that North Korea and China do. The two have a huge economic bond.
But President Xi’s 2017 embargo is a sign that the prospects and profits of Jeju Shinhwa Resort could turn on the whims of a single person who might have very different motives. Certainly, the resort is going to generate huge revenues, but the question is whether it will generate the kind of revenues to justify a $2.4 billion investment.
The China-South Korea standoff over missile defense underscores a larger factor in the Jeju Island casino’s future. Due to the increasing nuclear showdown on the Korean Peninsula between the great powers, any number of international incidents cloud the future of Jeju Shinwa Resort.
Yang Zhihui is an optimist, though. Yang Zhihui also has a world-class destination resort, so if his bold idea works, it could make him one of China’s biggest venture capitalists.