(Adds details on project, context)
* Genting Singapore, Landing International to develop $2.2 bln South Korea casino resort
* Resort, on Jeju island, to open in 2017
* South Korea popular destination for wealthy Chinese tourists
* Complex to be one of two mega-casino resorts in South Korea
By Farah Master
HONG KONG, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Casino operator Genting Singapore and Chinese property developer Landing International Development will develop a $2.2 billion casino resort in South Korea, joining global gaming firms rapidly expanding across Asia to court wealthy Chinese punters.
The tie up, announced in Hong Kong on Friday, marks Genting’s first foray into South Korea, an increasingly popular destination for Chinese tourists who flock there to gamble and shop, thanks in part to easier visa rules.
Genting Singapore’s parent company, Genting Bhd, operates a sprawling gaming empire from the Bahamas to Singapore.
The project, to be called Resorts World Jeju, will be located on Jeju island which is already popular with wealthy Chinese tourists. In addition to the casino, the complex will include luxury hotels, a shopping mall, a theme park and residential facilities.
A mock-up of the complex showed roller coasters, hotels with whimsical, castle-like facades and replicas of monuments like the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids.
Landing International Development has been scouting for a casino operator to partner with since 2013 to develop a 2.3 million square metre area in Jeju. The company’s shares were halted on Friday prior to the announcement but the stock has nearly doubled in price over the past two weeks.
South Korea forbids its citizens from gambling in casinos outside of Kangwon Land, an isolated resort located three hours by car from Seoul. The country has 16 foreigner-only casinos whose primary customers come from China and Japan.
Many Asian countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam, are building large scale casino resorts, hoping to attract Chinese punters and imitate the success of Macau, the world’s casino capital which rakes seven times more in annual gaming revenue than Las Vegas.
Chinese accounted for the largest number of tourists to visit South Korea last year.
With its eyes firmly on the Chinese, one of South Korea’s biggest gaming firms, Paradise Co Ltd, said in October it was building a $1.7 billion casino resort in Incheon with Japanese gaming firm Sega Sammy Holdings Inc.
The resort, dubbed Paradise City will be located minutes away from Seoul’s international airport and is set for completion in 2017.
Gaming revenues in South Korea totalled $2.7 billion in 2013 according to research house CIMB, slightly higher than the Philippines at $2.6 billion but trailing both Singapore at $6.4 billion and Macau at $45 billion. (Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Miral Fahmy)