Genting’s quest for Chinese Olympic gold

Genting’s quest for Chinese Olympic gold

KUALA LUMPUR — Tropical Malaysia will never host the Winter Olympics, but for the family behind local conglomerate Genting, Beijing is looking to be the next-best choice.

 The International Olympic Committee awarded the 2022 Winter Games to the Chinese capital in a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur three years ago. Lim Chee Wah, the youngest son of Genting’s late founder and a former deputy managing director of the group, eagerly supported the bid, joining and sponsoring the committee that put it together.

Lim was doing more than backing an official Chinese cause. For the Lims and Genting, rated by valuation service Brand Finance as Malaysia’s second most valuable trademark, the 2022 Olympics is set to be great advertising.

That is because Genting Resort Secret Garden, a sprawling ski resort in the Chongli area 200km northwest of Beijing, is to host the high-profile Olympic freestyle skiing and snowboarding events. Lim, who indirectly co-owns the resort with his brother Lim Kok Thay, Genting’s current chairman and chief executive, has put the total planned investment in the resort’s construction at 18 billion yuan ($2.74 billion), a tremendous amount given the lack of a skiing tradition in China. When complete, the resort is to include 88 ski runs, 22 chairlifts and some 10,000 hotel rooms.

The 2022 Games are “significantly important to [Secret Garden’s] development and growth,” Lim told Nikkei Asian Review in an interview.

The governments of both Malaysia and China have applauded the Lims’ commitment. On a visit last November, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, “The involvement of a Malaysian company in the Olympics will raise the country’s international stature.” Chinese President Xi Jinping stopped by two months later, with China Daily quoting him as saying, “The post-Olympics operation of the facilities should be considered beforehand, given that many Olympic host cities face challenges with venues left unused after the event.”

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia China's Vice Premier Liu Yandong, delivers a speech during Beijing's 2022 Olympic Winter Games bid presentation at the 128th IOC session in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, July 31, 2015. REUTERS/Vincent Thian/Pool

Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong gave the final pitch for Beijing’s 2022 Winter Games bid at the International Olympic Committee meeting in Kuala Lumpur on July 31, 2015. © Reuters

Money spinners

Such high-profile backing might seem surprising given that Genting’s core business is gambling, an activity ostensibly illegal in both Malaysia and China.

Genting’s direct revenue from China is relatively insignificant, though it operates a number of hotels at Secret Garden and elsewhere in the country. Chinese however are core customers for the casinos and slot halls that Genting operates in Singapore, the Philippines, the U.K., the U.S. and the Bahamas. In Malaysia, Genting operates the only legal casino though Muslims, a majority of the nation’s population, are barred entry.

These properties, along with two casino-equipped Asian cruise lines, together represent the world’s most far-flung gambling empire. Genting’s leisure and hospitality division, powered by gambling receipts, generated around three-quarters of the group’s revenue and operating profit last year though the diverse conglomerate encompasses palm oil plantations, power plants, property development and oil and gas production.

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