AN entrepreneurial Scot is set to open one of the world’s largest gambling resorts in the far east of Siberia.
Craig Ballantyne, now 64, ditched a safe job in banking to take a risk on the gambling industry, and it looks set to pay off.
Intended 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.
The new complex is intended to boost development in eastern Russia by drawing in money from wealthy gamblers in east Asia.
Mr Ballantyne will be chief operating officer of the Tigre de Cristal casino resort, which boasts 77 gaming tables, 759 slot machines, a spa, and a 121-room luxury hotel.
Mr Ballantyne’s now illustrious career had humble beginnings, however, as he started out working for the Royal Bank of Scotland in Dundee at the age of 19.
Realising he was “bored as hell” he took a gamble on Ladbrokes to became a turf accountant. But running betting shops didn’t satisfy him fully either and so he turned to running newly opened casinos for Ladbrokes.
Eventually he found the UK too constraining and set off to Poland at the end of the 1970s.
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 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.
It is hoped that four new Integrated Entertainment Zones, the first of which is outside Vladivostok, will bring in much need revenue to the struggling Russian economy.
Mr Ballantyne hopes that eastern Asia will bring in much of the desired business, he said: “there are 120 million gambling-mad Chinese, Japanese and Koreans living within two hours’ flying time of this place”.
Hundreds of young Russians are currently being trained as croupiers, dealers, floor managers and receptionists. This entertainment zone, along with a proposed Vladivostok free port, and a host of tax and investment incentives, is supposed to transform Russia’s Far East to a key point of contact with Asia.
Within five years there will be half a dozen more casinos. There will be a water park, a golf course, spas and theatres. All carved out of a forest where temperatures plunge to -20C in the winter.
The Dundonian now lives in the country-side outside Vladivostok, surrounded by forests. He still misses the opportunity to indulge in another of his passions, however.
“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.”