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Naga aircraft set to take flight

People walk past NagaWorld yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district. NagaCorp has purchased aircraft to fly in high-rollers from China
People walk past NagaWorld yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district. NagaCorp has purchased aircraft to fly in high-rollers from China. Eli Meixler

Naga aircraft set to take flight

Nagacorp, owner of Cambodia’s largest casino, NagaWorld, is on track to begin flying in high-rollers from China on a fleet of its own commercial aircraft, according to the company’s latest earnings statement and government officials.

In a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Friday, NagaCorp reported that it had purchased a number of Airbus A320s to fly VIP junkets between Phnom Penh and China. The move is part of the gaming operator’s long-running efforts to boost the high-roller patronage at its casino.

“The Group is also focused on developing the China market by improving accessibility to Phnom Penh, using its recently acquired Airbus A320s and collaborating with key outbound Chinese travel agents,” the statement says, citing a 19 per cent increase in Chinese tourist arrivals to the Kingdom during the first five months of this year.

A spokesman for the Cambodian State Secretariat of Civil Aviation confirmed that the gaming giant had applied for the country’s Certificate of Aviation Operations (AOC) and consideration of the application was in progress.

“They [NagaWorld] want to get the AOC early,” the spokesman told the Post, referring to the amount of time it could take for NagaCorp to attain the certification and start flying.

“But it depends on the real processes we must go through. We could not just jump [the process],” he added.

Neither NagaCorp nor Cambodia Airports returned requests for comment regarding the number of aircraft that had been purchased or where the planes will fly to.

Despite the fact that NagaCorp’s aircraft will be used only to service casino customers, Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said any new flights stand to benefit the wider economy.

“We currently do not have enough linkages between Cambodia and China as it is,” he said. “At least Naga’s flights will fulfil some of the demand coming from China. I feel OK about it. It does not matter if they come just for the casino, they will still need transportation around the city, eat at local restaurants, feed other local businesses and contribute to the wider economy.”

News of NagaCorp’s foray into the aviation industry came as the firm announced a 61 per cent rise in VIP gaming revenue for the first half of the year.

Citing interest from neighbouring, “gaming-centric” nations such as Vietnam and China, NagaCorp’s mid-year earnings statement says the company made $86 million from VIP gaming operations between January and June, up from $53.3 million during the same period in 2013.

“Continued visitor growth from these gaming-centric countries is a driver of the Group’s business growth,” the statement reads.

Overall, NagaCorp, which now has more than 1,500 electronic gaming machines and 169 gaming tables at its NagaWorld casino, posted a 27 per cent increase in gaming revenue, totalling $180 million as of June 30. Net profit for the firm increased 8 per cent year on year to $67.9 million.

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