LEBANON’S CASINO CULTURE

Lebanon 2018 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Roland Khoury, CEO of Casino du Liban, on getting out of the red, client demographics, and financial targets for 2018.

Can you give us some background on the casino and recent developments that have affected its operations?

In Lebanon, the casino is a place where many gather to eat and enjoy a broad selection of entertainment, in addition to gambling. Our main revenue stream, though, is gambling, and all the departments are designed to serve gambling. Even when we host large events, we do it with the intention of maximizing our gambling revenues. We want to bring people to the gaming rooms. Casinos in Lebanon face many problems at the moment. Casino du Liban has a concession for 30 years, and we are the only ones allowed to operate gambling houses in the country. With only have eight years left in our concession, so it is difficult to find new investors. New investment takes two or three years to get off the ground. The second problem we are facing is the high tax rate from the government; the government takes 50% of the company's revenue. The number of employees at the casino is another problem; it is currently too high, and salaries are also high. It is an inefficient operation. Furthermore, the government is not enforcing the closure of small, illegal gambling operations, which eats into our legitimate business.

What do you expect to occur in eight years when your concession expires?

After the election, we plan to apply for another concession for a further 30 years. Our primary goal at the moment is to lobby for this concession. We also want to pay less taxes. This is a Catch-22 in that although we pay high taxes, we are essentially then guaranteed to the government approval for another 30-year concession. Beyond that, we also employ 1,200 people, so we are a major source of employment.

Are you currently operating at a profit?

When I was appointed CEO of the casino, the losses were upward of USD6 million per year. We finished 2017 with a USD3 million surplus. This turnaround was affected after only six months. We made a huge investment in the gaming rooms, buying new games, and enticing many high rollers. In order to attract them to the casino, we pay for their travel and accommodation at the hotel. We also host large events for VIPs, bringing people from all over the region. We like to host top entertainment acts from around the region as well, and this draws people from all over the area to our casino. Lebanon is a great place for tourism, and people like to come here and gamble.

How much of your business is from foreigners?

In terms of the population, foreigners account for approximately 20% of our visitors. In terms of revenue, this is close to 35% of our total revenue. Many of our high rollers are foreign visitors. We look to increase this group of visitors and have created a new department specifically for this.

What new projects have you initiated?

We are renovating our main restaurant and are planning many additional investments. However, we are waiting for the new concession before we jump into these projects. We could receive the concession in as little as six months. We need the guarantee of the concession before we invest a large amount of new capital. We are renovating a number of our theaters, restaurants, and halls currently. We are trying to bring big names in the Lebanese restaurant space into the casino as well. In terms of large-scale investment, we are proposing creating a big new room for gambling. This room will require a dress code, though it will be open to all. We also plan to start hosting an Texas hold 'em tournament. We are also keen to get into online betting and sports betting. We hope to develop an infrastructure similar to the sports betting infrastructure in places like Las Vegas.

What are your targets for this fiscal year?

We hope to reach profits of USD10 million this year. Even if we do not receive the new concession in the next six months, we will create a new area for bingo. This is a popular game in Lebanon for all age groups.