Asian gambling room opens at Seminole Hard Rock

The new Jubao Palace at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino features Asian poker and other games popular with Asians.
The new Jubao Palace at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino features Asian poker and other games popular with Asians.
Published Dec. 21, 2012

TAMPA — On the far side of the main floor in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, the new Jubao Palace game room bustles.

Patrons huddle at the Baccarat and Pai Gow Poker tables. There are few open seats. Roast ducks hang in a glass case behind the 15-seat noodle bar, where chefs serve spring rolls, dumplings and other authentic Asian dishes.

Designers created the gaming room, decorated in shades of red, black and gold, according to the rules of traditional feng shui, so as not to block the flow of luck and money.

While everyone is welcome to partake in the food and atmosphere of the Jubao Palace, the casino built the 4,000-square-foot gaming room to attract more Asian customers.

At the noodle bar Wednesday evening, Lan La, 32, ate a steaming bowl of noodle soup.

He lives in St. Petersburg, and he occasionally comes to play at the Hard Rock. This was his first time visiting the Jubao Palace. He wanted to eat before he ventured over to the tables.

"It's a good concept," La said. "There's a lot of Asian communities here, so it's a good target."

Jubao Palace opened Dec. 13, and has been busy since then, said Anthony Patrone, vice president of marketing and player development for the casino.

"It is really even ahead of our expectations," he said. "It's been great."

The Seminole-run casino has always marketed to Asian and Asian-American customers and featured games popular with Asians such as Baccarat and mini-Baccarat, Patrone said. But after the casino completed its $75 million expansion earlier this year, there was space to concentrate its Asian games in a single room, complete with a new restaurant and private bar.

"We really heard the message from our consumer and our market," Patrone said.

The new gaming room aims to attract gamblers from other states and countries and customers from Central Florida's growing Asian-American population, casino spokeswoman Gina Morales said.

Employees in the Jubao Palace can speak the major Asian languages, she said, and the casino created new landing pages for its website where Asian customers can read about the amenities of the hotel and casino in Chinese or Vietnamese.

"We're not the first ones to do something like this," she said.

Indeed, Asian gaming rooms are becoming more and more popular in American casinos, said Holly Wetzel, a spokeswoman for the American Gaming Association.

Asian gaming rooms have become fixtures in other major American casinos, such as the Horseshoe Casino in Chicago, the Golden Nugget Las Vegas, the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., and the Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln, Calif.

Wetzel said Baccarat, a card game popular with Asian gamblers, was the most lucrative game on the Las Vegas strip in 2011.

"A lot of gamblers from Asia come over to Vegas to celebrate the Chinese New Year," Wetzel said. "Casinos out in Las Vegas have long developed spaces to cater to Asian gamblers."

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American casinos have been looking for ways to compete with the casinos on Macau, an island off the coast of China, Wetzel said. Macau outpaced Las Vegas as the largest gambling hub in the world a few years ago.

Gambling is a social norm in the Asian culture, said Timothy Fong, director of the UCLA Gambling Studies program. Asians view it as a way not only to make money but to "test good luck," he said. "They don't necessarily gamble more than any other ethnic group," he said. "It just tends to be a very popular form of entertainment among Asians."

He said he studied a casino in Los Angeles, and 30 percent of its patrons were Asian and Asian-American compared to 14 percent of the area's total Asian population.

"The (casino) industry has figured out that here's a group that is very much drawn to gambling, is passionate about gambling and accepts gambling," Fong said. "The industry has a package and playbook that they know works."

Asians will go to gamble in a place where they feel comfortable, Fong said, which is why it's appropriate for the Seminole Hard Rock to use Asian decor and offer Asian cuisine.

Patrone said the casino hired designers and an Asian marketing team to help make sure everything in Jubao Palace was done accurately and with cultural sensitivity.

"It's just a pastime that Asians seem to enjoy," he said. "I think our regular customer likes it, I think they get it. I think it's actually kind of cool."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report