Wednesday, February 27, 2008

DLF & Sarovar betting big on India’s first inland gambling den

Sanjeev Choudhary, TNN

NEW DELHI: India’s great gamblers won’t need to hotfoot it to casino capitals like Macao or Monaco (or closer home, even Kathmandu) for a quick turn at the roulette table or a hand of baccarat or black jack. For that, look to Gangtok, which is set to literally hit the jackpot.

The country’s biggest real estate developer DLF and hospitality chain Sarovar Hotels & Resorts are on course to separately set up the country’s first inland casinos in Sikkim’s capital.

The Sikkim government, which has been looking to turn the state into a tourist hotspot, passed the Sikkim Casino Games Act in 2004, making casino operations legal. And it framed casino rules last year.

Incidentally, Sikkim is the only state to have legalised casinos after Goa, which has a legal casino—Casino Goa—located offshore in capital Panaji. This casino is located on a yacht, anchored on the Mandovi river. DLF offshoot DLF Hotel Holdings has signed an MoU with the Sikkim government to build a five-star resort housing a casino at Panthang near Gangtok.

According to a DLF official, the land for the project, which will be spread over 12 acres, has already been acquired. The resort is likely to be ready by 2010. DLF, which plans to set up over 100 hotels in India, is likely to tie up with a hospitality firm to run its Gangtok hotel.

Sarovar Hotels, which is the master franchisor of Carlson Hospitality Worldwide’s Park Plaza and Park Inn brands, too is ready to roll the dice. The Royal Plaza hotel in Gangtok, run by the group, is set for its casino debut on April 1.

“We saw a big business opportunity in opening a casino,” said Sarovar Hotels executive director Ajay Bakaya. He declined to give any estimate on the kind of revenue he expects through the casino. But the state government will have a 25% share in the revenue generated through the casino. Mr Bakaya hopes to draw tourists from across the country and abroad. “We would target tourists from all locations.

We are the first post of entry into India from China and expect to attract a lot of Chinese tourists. We know Chinese tourists have a great inclination towards casinos,” said Mr Bakaya. Hospitality majors and the government also expect to divert some traffic from Kathmandu in Nepal, which houses the nearest casino in the region and has been a favourite for Indian tourists for years.