near-Arctic gambling: Russia’s largest casino opens near Vladivostok, most customers Chinese

After running for one month on a trial basis, a casino near Vladivostok managed to attract more customers from Mainland China than from anywhere else, despite not having yet advertised there.

Melco Crown, chaired by Lawrence Ho (何猷龙), the son of Macau’s ‘King of Gambling’, have just grand-opened the ‘Tigre de Cristal’ (水晶虎宫殿) casino on Ussuri bay, near Vladivostok. Specifically, it’s in the “Gambling Zone Primorye” being developed on a certain Muravyinaya bay (or cove: бухта Муравьиная; more about the name later). The general area along Ussuri bay is locally popular as a holiday destination. The specific location of the ‘gambling zone’ has not only a bay, but also a small lake and low hills. In short, enviable fengshui.

Possibly even more than the geomantic appeal, the casino’s location near northern China has meant that around 60% of its customers during the trial period after a ‘soft opening’ were Chinese. And that, says Bill Hsu (徐明哲), chairman of Firich Enterprises, a Taiwanese investor in the casino, before even advertising the casino to Mainland customers: they “came on their own.” After such a success, adds Hsu, “adjustments” will be made to the facilities to appeal more specifically to Chinese players. Casinos are illegal in Mainland China.

Gambling holidays, offered to Mainland customers through junket operators, are scheduled to begin next month.

The casino is being described as the largest in Russia.

The location of the casino is literally called ‘Ants’ cove’ in Russian, but I’m not sure the name literally refers to an insect infestation. Another possibility that comes to mind is an allusion to Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky, a diplomat who played a major role in acquiring territory for Russia in the Amur basin (and the ‘Amursky’ title for himself). It was Muravyov who signed the Treaty of Aigun with the Qing Empire in 1858, later denounced as an “unequal treaty” (不平等条约). For China, the treaty meant the loss of the lands that now include Vladivostok, but on the positive side it also means Chinese people can now legally gamble there.

The myrmecological toponym is itself rather new. Like many other geographical features in the area, Muravyinaya cove used to be known by a non-Russian, most likely Chinese, name. Toponyms were Russified wholesale in 1972, but some of the old names are still in use by the local population, as well as by Chinese visitors and tourist guides. Gamblers at the Crystal Tiger might prefer to avoid the offending allusion to Count Muravyov and the unequal treaty by calling the bay by its older name, Tavayza Тавайза, etymologised as Chinese Daweizi (大崴子 or 大嵬子).