In 2020, gambling was legalized in Ukraine. Since then, casino owners have been organizing gambling tours for foreigners – mostly residents of the Middle East. In the first half of 2021 alone, about 220 thousand people arrived from this region. Those of them who flew in for the game, according to various estimates, leave an average of $10,000 in Ukraine.
Chief Executive Officer of Shangri La Casino and Storm International Darren Keane told how much money gambling tourists spend per night, what they do in Ukraine besides gambling, and why they pay an extra amount in the airport for their bags when they return.
About the origin of gambling tourism in Ukraine and the world
Mid 70s of the last century. Growing oil prices and production volumes in the Arab world. The inhabitants of these countries have enough money to travel around Europe. There, many of them combine classical tourism with playing in a casino. In their home country, they can get up to two years in prison and condemnation of the imam for this. This is how the first gambling tourists appeared in the world. Now they have the opportunity to conduct gambling tours in Ukraine, including the VIP casino of the Shangri La network, which belongs to Michael Boettcher’s Storm International.
CEO of Storm International, Darren Keane, has been following the development of global gambling tourism since the 80s. He began his career as a croupier in a casino. Today, Mr. Keane is the CEO of the largest Shangri La casino in Ukraine. Since its opening in 2021, this place has been visited by more than 7 thousand people, and 45% of them are foreigners.
Gambling tourists went to Ukraine after they passed the law on gambling. But two more reasons played a big role in this. The first is the convenient location of casinos in Ukraine: they can only be located in five-star hotels with at least 100–150 rooms. And the second: the early age at which you can play in our country is 21 years old.
Even Ukraine has a developed infrastructure. In the capital alone, there are dozens of halal restaurants – without pork and alcohol – with a high level of service and menus in Arabic. This makes our country more and more attractive to residents of eastern countries.
How Shangri La organizes gambling tours
In June, a Turkish businessman flew to Kiev at the invitation of Shangri La. In two days, he left more than $10,000 in Shangri La and became a VIP client. So, when he called again a few months later, he was offered a week-long tour that included more than just gambling. When he arrived, he was given an escort. The guest was taken to Khreshchatyk and Sophia Square as well other beautiful places where he was told about the history of Ukraine.
Such tours in Shangri La are organized by special workers who have some specific responsibilities. These are two teams of five people. Marketers promote services for organizing gambling tours. For example, if the casino arranges a concert, they write about it on the website and send invitations to regular customers in Ukraine and abroad. For those who want to come, they organize tours. Managers call customers and book plane tickets and hotel rooms. Most fly on scheduled flights. The cost of a flight ranges from $500 to $1,000. They stay at good chain hotels like Radisson or Holiday Inn, where the price per night is $150–300.
Usually, the flights and accommodation are paid by the clients themselves. Sometimes Shangri La returns this money. This was the case with a guest who spent over $10,000 with the brand.
The staff keeps an eye on the players. Before organizing the tour, they check them in the register of gambling addicts. But this does not always save from problems. If someone is nervous, scandalous or uses force in the casino, then the player is asked to leave and is never allowed into Shangri La again.