Scot runs casino as Russia gambles on eastern Vegas

By :- Sharia, On December 26, 2018 in ::-Featured

The gamble taken by a teenage Scot to ditch a safe job in banking for the gambling industry is about to pay off.

Craig Ballantyne will next week open one of the world’s biggest gambling resorts in the far east of Siberia.

Planned to rival Las Vegas and Macau, the half-billion-dollar Selena World Resort outside Vladivostok will be Russia’s first legal casino operation since they were outlawed in 2009.

It is intended to kickstart development in eastern Russia by drawing in money from wealthy gamblers in east Asia. Although Russians are expected to account for 80 per cent of the customers, Chinese will make up 80 per cent of the business in money terms.

Phase one of the resort is Tigre de Cristal — which has 77 gaming tables, 759 slot machines, a spa, and a 121-room luxury hotel — and Mr Ballantyne is the chief operations officer.

But the 64-year-old’s career in gaming all began 5,000 miles away in Dundee more than 40 years ago.

He started working for the Royal Bank of Scotland at the age of 19 but soon realised he was “as bored as hell” and preferred a riskier venture, so became a turf accountant for Ladbrokes.

After running betting shops he decided gaming tables were more suited to him and ran newly opened casinos for Ladbrokes. But at the end of the 1970s he took off abroad for the first time after deciding the UK was too constraining.

He said: “What I didn’t like about the UK was that the units were too small, the gaming legislation was too restrictive and the salaries as a result were poor. So I left and went to Poland and started earning twice as much as I had.”

He worked his way through countries including Ukraine, Russia, Romania, South Africa and Greece until the Macau gambling tycoon Lawrence Ho began his investment in Vladivostok.

Russia under Vladimir Putin outlawed gaming in 2009 but has created four Integrated Entertainment Zones, the first of which is outside Vladivostok.

It is hoped that these will bring in much needed revenue to the struggling Russian economy. More than $3 billion has been spent on infrastructure, including better road and airport links.

Mr Ballantyne agreed the image of the largest Russian port on the Pacific had not always been good, but added: “I was pleasantly surprised when I got here, having been in Moscow in 1994, which was not pleasant. Yes, there are an awful lot of ships but there are also yachts in the marina.”

The Dundonian lives in the countryside outside Vladivostok, surrounded by forests. But he said there was nowhere to indulge another great passion. “The only thing I cannot do here is play golf. But when I have a weekend free I fly down to Korea, Hong Kong, or Taipei for a couple of games.”

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