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Digging deeper into the Lucky Dragon hotel-casino with developer Andrew Fonfa

Construction continues on the Lucky Dragon hotel-casino on Sahara Avenue on Thursday, May 5, 2016, near Las Vegas Boulevard.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Lucky Dragon Construction

The Lucky Dragon hotel and casino on Sahara Avenue just west of the Strip has been one of the most mysterious Vegas developments in recent memory. It’s a rare thing for a resort project on or near the Strip—even a boutique property like this, with its 200 hotel rooms and 27,500-square-foot casino—to keep quiet and stray from the traditional marketing hype once construction has begun.

But the developers behind Lucky Dragon have kept a low profile all along, even after the building started to rise last summer. Late last week, after a fall financing slowdown, the organization behind Lucky Dragon, the Las Vegas Economic Impact Regional Center, announced the project is fully capitalized and on schedule for completion by the end of the year.

Las Vegas Weekly spoke with LVEIRC CEO Andrew Fonfa, also developer of the adjacent Allure condominium tower, about the plans for Lucky Dragon, what makes the project so unique and why it’s maintained the mystery.

In November your company met with the Las Vegas City Council about possibly receiving tax increment financing to help complete Lucky Dragon, which didn’t happen, but now the project is fully capitalized. How were you able to work through that slowdown? Nothing has really changed with our development, we have continued to move forward with construction and we never really slowed down. It is an EB-5 project [an economic stimulus program encouraging foreigners to invest in U.S. business in exchange for green card eligibility] and a lot of our funding comes from Chinese investors. When the government recently decided to renew the program, that slowed down some of that financing, but my partner William Weidner and I made more contributions and now we can continue to raise EB-5 funds to pay my partner and I back.

The recent announcement describes Lucky Dragon as “the city’s first resort delivering an authentic Asian cultural and gaming experience.” What came first, the idea to build a casino resort here, or the idea to focus on the Asian experience? Well, a number of years ago, after I built the Allure high-rise, probably six years ago, I thought of doing a boutique lesbian and gay resort, the Q. But knowing the recession had just taken place and reviewing the type of customer that was, we didn’t believe gambling would be the first thing on their mind, that it would be more about the hotel property. So we came up with this idea to create an authentic, Macau-style casino.

The best player in the world right now is the Chinese gambler. If you take a sample of 200,000 people, with Americans, probably 10 percent are gamblers, but probably 100 percent of Asians are gamblers. It just makes sense to go after this customer. Even if you look at the local casinos here, you see mostly Asian faces gambling. That’s our customer, and we think we’ve really hit on something. We’ll be multilingual, everyone in our hotel will speak Chinese languages. We’ll go after the local Asian community as well as heavy marketing in LA, San Francisco and Vancouver. And of course, China just announced direct flights from Beijing to Las Vegas every three days.

Does your specific target demographic explain why there hasn’t been a huge marketing push yet? We didn’t feel we needed to be out in front trying to get the attention of the citizens of Las Vegas yet because we are more geared to the Asian clientele. We had a few full-page ads in the Chinese newspapers in Las Vegas. But yes, we did that intentionally to be a little mysterious. Now we’re on our way to being out in front a lot more.

How do you think Lucky Dragon will fit into the recent and upcoming development along the North Strip? I personally believe the North Strip will become the Chinese tourist area of Las Vegas and we intend to continue with additional investments near and around the Lucky Dragon to capitalize on that. I don’t think Genting’s Resorts World is truly our competition, I think what we are doing will enhance that development and others along the northern Strip. Genting is going to bring many more Asian customers and we’re really going after the West Coast regional market in addition to people coming from China and Malaysia. I think both properties can be very successful, but I believe our property, per square foot, will be the most successful casino ever built in Las Vegas.

Lucky Dragon’s gaming and dining options are designed much more for the Asian customer, as well as special amenities like the authentic tea garden experience. Do you expect to cross over to other audiences? Our target audience is the Asian market but we do expect Americans to come to our property, but mostly to eat authentic Chinese food. You’re not going to get an eggroll in the Lucky Dragon. There will be Korean and Japanese but mostly Chinese with a Pan-Pacific angle, a wide variety of foods. The signage and the menus will be Chinese first, English second. We are specifically targeting something of an old Vegas type, the gambler who uses gambling as the entertainment. This will be the only authentic high tea place in Las Vegas, and having features like that and everyone speaking the language will give us a shot at some of the big whales, although our legal limits won’t be that of the Wynn or Venetian. But those people will come visit our casino.

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Brock is an award-winning writer and reporter who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently ...

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