ARTEM, Russia — On Russia’s eastern rim, where endemic corruption and bureaucratic sloth conspire to hold back the economic dynamism enriching the rest of Asia, a shimmering palace rises from a dark forest in an improbable effort to tap into the wealth of nearby China, Japan and South Korea.
At a time when few Chinese or other investors want to take a gamble on Russia, the forest property, 4,000 miles east of Moscow, beckons deep-pocketed Asians who not only do not mind risk but delight in it — and are ready to wager their money on the baccarat tables and roulette wheels of the Russian Far East’s fledgling answer to Las Vegas.
Tigre de Cristal, the lone casino so far in what the authorities in nearby Vladivostok hope will become a vast “integrated entertainment zone” with eight different betting palaces, is Russia’s biggest gambling complex.
Financed largely by a Hong Kong company, Summit Ascent, it is also the single biggest Chinese investment in a region that President Vladimir V.
Putin has tried to turn into a showcase of Russia’s “pivot to the East.”Ever since Nikita S.
Khrushchev stopped off in the Russian Far East after a trip to California in 1959 and decreed that Vladivostok had become “a second San Francisco,” the port city’s formidable assets — great natural beauty, location in Asia and a highly educated population — have stirred bold dreams.
These have all been followed by bitter disappointment. Putin, Moscow has poured billions of dollars into the area, paying for huge bridges, a new university campus and other costly state-directed projects.
But despite ever closer relations between Moscow and Beijing, said Artyom Lukin, an international studies professor at the Far East Federal University, “Russia has realized that free Chinese money is not coming.”Chinese gamblers are arriving, however, if only because gambling is illegal in their own country, except in Macau on the southern coast near Hong Kong, and because the forest northeast of Vladivostok offers the only accessible casino for the more than 100 million Chinese who live in provinces just across the border from Russia.
Li Yunhui, a 45-year-old businessman and gambler from Mudanjiang, a Chinese city about 150 miles from Vladivostok, said the Russian casino lacked the amenities and service of established gambling centers like Macau, but added: “At least it is close. He added that he had tried to set up a small business in Vladivostok but had despaired at all the red tape: “What you can do in a day in China takes weeks here.”The gambling venture is itself a showcase of how slowly things gets done.
And the air is clean.”He said he had visited Vladivostok regularly since the early 1990s and could not fathom why Russia had lagged so far behind China in building its economy. Government officials began pursuing the idea nearly a decade ago.
They enlisted a well-connected local businessman, Oleg Drozdov, to build the hotel and casino complex now housing Tigre de Cristal. Drozdov was arrested in 2013 on corruption charges after the ouster of the Primorye region’s disgraced former governor, Sergey Darkin.
Summit Ascent, the Hong Kong company that now owns 60 percent of the casino venture, took over the concrete shell left by Mr.