Lippo, the Hong Kong-listed investment group, plans to team up with joint venture partners including the American casino giant Caesars Entertainment to build a resort complex in South Korea.
The group, which is controlled by the Indonesian Riady family, said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange that it "entered into agreements … to seek preliminary governmental approval" to an integrated resort in Incheon, South Korea. Lippo has a 20 per cent stake in the joint venture, Caesars has 40 per cent and another joint venture partner the remaining 40 per cent.
The project includes hotels and serviced apartments, with plans for Caesars to build and operate an integrated hotel-casino. Lippo said it would not "participate or engage in any gaming business in the project".
Chelsey Tam, an analyst at Emperor Securities, said: "The success of Macau and Singapore in becoming the region's gambling hubs has raised interest in neighbouring countries in developing their own gaming and tourism industries."
Lippo's planned Incheon venture may have been encouraged by the increasing number of Chinese tourists travelling to South Korea, according to Tam.
"I believe Chinese customers/high rollers will be their key target," she said, adding that the US$290 billion 8City project near Incheon international airport, announced by the Seoul government last year, was a reflection of the importance of Chinese tourists to South Korea. The venture was given its name because eight is an auspicious number in China.
Boosted by the growing popularity of Korean culture, with the success of the song Gangnam Style by the South Korean singer Psy the latest example of the phenomenon, South Korea has become one of the hottest travel destination for Chinese tourists.
The dispute over the Diaoyu islands, known as the Senkakus to the Japanese, cooled down an enthusiasm for Japan among cash-rich Chinese. This benefits South Korea, as the tourists still wish to travel and it is an obvious backup choice.
More than 16,000 mainlanders visited South Korea during "golden week", the first week of October, a record high, according to South Korean media.