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Taiwanese owner takes shipping as a casino maxim literally

The shipping business is compared to the gaming industry ad nauseam. Now, however, one Taiwanese shipowner has taken that synonym literally.

Taiwan-listed shipping operator First Steamship on Monday acquired nearly 189m ordinary shares – each priced at HK$1.05 ($0.13) – in Hong Kong-listed Summit Ascent Holdings, the lead developer of the Tigre de Cristal casino resort in the Russian Far East located in between Vladivostok and Nakhodka.

The acquisition – conducted via First Steamship’s subsidiary Heritage Riches – gives the owner a 12.67% stake in the casino venture. The shipowner said the decision to buy into the casino was a “long term investment”.

First Steamship was the first line on the island of Taiwan to list back in 1965. Since then it has diversified dramatically from its dry bulk origins and is today involved in many non-shipping activities such as department stores, property development and financial leasing.

The giant Tigre de Cristal casino, located in the Primorye gambling zone in Russia’s Far East, opened two years ago. The casino is the largest in the country and one of the first to be opened since the government banned gambling facilities across most of the country in 2009. A planned second phase of the complex is due to start operating in 2019. Its proximity to China – less than 100 km away – is the projected source of revenues for the venture.

There are links between shipping and casino moguls, most notably Stanley Ho, the famous Macau gaming magnate who also built up a sizeable shipping portfolio including Portugal’s Portline and ferry services operating in south China. Ironically, Ho’s only son, Lawrence, decided to cash in his chips in the Tigre de Cristal project just at the time First Steamship are buying into the complex.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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