Paris a poor bet for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 September, 1999, 12:00am

Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is paying a visit today to the ultimate toy town of them all, Las Vegas, to see what lessons it holds for us.

He is reportedly checked in to the latest piece of Vegas glitz, Paris, a hotel done up as a Parisian boulevard with grounds featuring several Hollywood style 'French' props including a scale model of the Eiffel Tower.

Just out of his window he can see another big hotel done up as an Egyptian pyramid featuring a copy of the Sphinx with its nose restored to correct a mistake of history, while nearby someone is redoing the canals of Venice for yet another mammoth hotel - expected to be the biggest piece of illusion-mongering of them all.

Let's be grateful they haven't yet decided to try a China theme or we would have a plastic Forbidden City with the world's biggest Suzie Wong bar set in the Three Gorges with Marco Polo and a team of pig-tailed waiters to kowtow us in.

Yes, there is indeed a lesson here.

If Hong Kong consisted of nothing except empty desert but had 250 million of the world's wealthiest people within three hours flying time just as commercial air travel was arriving, we too might hope to share in the loot of allowing in some shady people to build casinos.

Las Vegas was lucky in its timing 50 years ago but must now cross its fingers that the luck will hold.

Other states are no longer so kind to it as to forbid gambling and steer all their fools to the desert.

It is double or nothing now for the biggest Vegas gamble of them all.

The city is lashing out billions upon billions of dollars in the hope that this will keep the crowds coming, hence Paris, Venice and Egypt along a strip of desert road.

If you were unkind you might think it the sort of risk that would appeal to a man who lashed out $120 billion on the stock market a year ago and has now almost doubled his money.

But Mr Tsang will be a true genius if he sees anything worthwhile for us in the Las Vegas model.

Our economy is not one based only upon sand if it had no gambling and we are not short of visitors either.

In fact, as the table shows, we are still Asia's biggest visitor destination with the biggest relative economic benefit.

The SAR also has a visitor arrival growth rate well above the average, all without a single roll of the dice.

And all we needed to do it was just to be ourselves.

It's a simple fact, confirmed by study after study, that the number of jobs created for the capital outlay is invariably poor when government money is poured into convention centres, theme parks, professional sports facilities and gambling joints.

It is instead a narrow slice of society consisting of hoteliers, airline operators and shop landlords that reap the benefits.

The rest of us wind up just paying.

Come home and make yourself useful, Mr Tsang.

Paris in the desert is a silly demeaning illusion and you won't do us any good by trying to bring it here.