February 17, 2015 / 3:05 AM / 4 years ago

Mongolia parliament may vote this week on casino bill to boost economy

ULAN BATOR, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Mongolia’s parliament may vote as early as this week on draft legislation to develop multi-billion dollar casinos to lure gamblers away from hubs like Macau, seeking to stimulate a slumping economy and diversify away from the mining industry.

At a meeting on Feb. 12, the country’s Cabinet Secretariat approved a draft of a bill that would target private partnerships to build two casinos targeting China’s high-roller gamblers, according to an email to Reuters from the Ministry of Justice.

The move comes as countries across Asia from Vietnam to South Korea are building large-scale casino resorts to lure the region’s wealthy gamblers, particularly from China, to boost consumer spending, leisure industries and economic growth.

Companies including U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts and Genting Bhd have been keen to expand their footprint in Asia.

Parliament has an opportunity to vote on the bill this week, the ministry told Reuters in the email. However, a vote may not take place before the parliament breaks for recess for Mongolia’s lunar new year on Feb. 18.

“Russia, China and Japan are some of the biggest gamblers in the world. Japan and Russia already don’t need visas for Mongolia, and Chinese with official passports don’t either,” said a member of the working party that drafted the bill, who asked not to be named.

The working party member said the bill comes with restrictions that would bar Mongolians from playing at the casinos, similar to countries like Vietnam, South Korea and Cambodia, where locals are not allowed to gamble in the casinos.

China in February announced it will crack down on attempts by foreign casinos to lure its citizens abroad to gamble.

The proposed bill has not specified potential casino locations, but the working party member said one option would be Khushigt International Airport, currently under construction with Japanese partners Mitsubishi Corp and Chiyoda Corp taking lead roles.

The casino would likely be fully owned and operated by private investors as part of a larger effort to create centres for tourism to boost the industry.

“Xi Jinping has plans for restrictions on Macau and business is shrinking now, so hopefully we can get tourists that might have travelled to Macau,” said the working party member been involved with putting the bill together.

Mongolia annulled legislation permitting casinos in 2010 because of concerns over corruption and social issues.

The working party, which operates directly under the prime minister, has said it looked at casino legislation in France, the United States, Singapore and Korea before drafting the bill. ($1 = 1.3551 Singapore dollars) (Additional reporting by Farah Master in HONG KONG; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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