By George H. Tsai
Few people would question the claim that Las Vegas is now the world’s top tourist attraction and a gamblers’ paradise.
Each year Las Vegas attracts about 30 million visitors, and, surprisingly, 1 percent of them are Chinese, mostly from China.
Since 1994, every business group from China, official or private, has visited Vegas in the name of study. And their frequent visits quickly drew attention of the big-name hotels like MGM Grand and Luxor because some of the Chinese tourists are high rollers, whose wagers usually reach six figures. The high stakes even amazed their people who have lived in this country for years.
The hotels treat them like kings for their patronage, checking them into the presidential suites. To make the wealthy Chinese feel at home, MGM Grand has decorated its hall for the luminaries with quintessential Chinese design and furnishings and provided them with aromatic Chinese food. No imaginable service is ignored.
A year ago, my wife and I took a sightseeing trip to Las Vegas and checked into Luxor, an imposing structure modeled after the Egyptian pyramid. We got zero attention because we were small potatoes feeding the slot machines with nickels and quarters. We lost only five bucks in three days. With that meager contribution to its coffer, the hotel couldn’t care less about customers like us.
As far as I know, few casino players came home as big winners from Las Vegas or Atlantic City or Foxwoods.
The casino hotels often lure the high rollers back with generous rewards. The lush hotel rooms with golden ornaments are reserved for those spendthrifts.
About eight years ago, a couple living across from me often bragged about the special treatment they enjoyed at a top casino hotel in Atlantic City. “We paid nothing for the room, and the food is free.’’ It sounds tempting. Unfortunately, a couple of months later, they had to sell their house shortly after a long weekend at that hotel. When asked about the sale, they only said they lost a lot of money.
Also, an acquaintance in Flushing was a regular baccarat player. Winning or losing, he always had the luxury of taking a round trip to Atlantic City in a chauffeured limo provided by the hotel. And a plush room was set aside for him. Of course he could order any food of his choice – for free. The hotel considered him a big daddy of his peers.
As time rolled on, he became addicted to it because of his frequent wins and the special treatment at the hotel. He went there every weekend. One night he lost all the money he brought with him. Trying to recover the loss, he borrowed about $10,000 from his buddies from Flushing, but he lost it again as ill luck would have it. He had to work several months to pay off the debts, poor soul. He vowed never to set his foot on the gambling city’s soil again. Well, never say never. Many smokers had made that same remark each time after they called it quits. They still puff today. Data show gambling addiction sometimes causes marriage breakup and isolation from relatives and friends.
Before 1996, Las Vegas targeted tourists from Taiwan, Hong Kong and other Southeastern Asian countries. No more. Las Vegas has changed its strategy. It is beckoning the burgeoning entrepreneurs from China.
Here’s an episode about a high roller from the northern part of China. He happened to be the leader of a delegation touring the United States last year. After two days in Las Vegas, his delegation proceeded to New York City, but he decided to stay in the desert city for a month in an attempt to hit the jackpot. When the higher-ups learned of his arbitrary decision and sent for him, he was worth $700,000 less. Trying to regain the big loss, he mounted a last-ditch fight. But he bit the dust and left reluctantly.
For a while, the glittering business in Las Vegas turned bleak as the ripple effect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center spread to every corner of the globe. Terror-phobia forced foreigners to put off their travel plans. Since then, the Chinese authorities have cut applications for business trips to the United States by 60 percent. Such restrictions have apparently dealt some Las Vegas casinos a financial blow. But Las Vegas is confident the Chinese will come back.
Here on the East Coast, casino hotels in Foxwoods and Atlantic City offer prospective players with a free round-trip tourist bus plus $10 in spending money as incentive for going there. Most of them are Asians from Queens and Chinatown.
From time to time, these hotels present floorshows starring famous singers and performers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to entertain their Asian patrons. They even invite local politicians to participate in festive Chinese events like the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Obviously the Chinese are playing a significant role in American gaming industry. It’s beyond my comprehension.