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Ho Tram launches Hanoi office amid bullish outlook

Ho Tram Project Company, the developer of the $4.2 billion The Grand integrated resort, residences, and casino complex in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, last week opened its Hanoi office, expanding the company’s reach into the northern region. US billionaire Philip Falcone, principal of Harbinger Capital – the Grand’s majority shareholder, told VIR’s Hoang Mai that he was bullish about The Grand development and was planning for further investments to make it a world class entertainment destination.

Ho Tram launches Hanoi office amid bullish outlook

Ho Tram Project Company’s Hanoi office opened a few days ahead of the upcoming US President’s visit to Vietnam. Is it a coincidence?

We felt the timing of the opening was right with the developments we have made in the Ho Tram project.

We have additional commitments lined up for Ho Tram and we felt that it was an important part of integrating our team into the Vietnamese community, so we thought it was an appropriate step.

We didn't open the Hanoi office because of the president’s visit, but as it relates, it is indicative of how important Vietnam-US relations are.

I think as Vietnam continues to move forward and develop its trade relations that for the US president to come here is a very big step.

It’s an extension of the belief in the partnership that both countries want and need.

The Grand is now the biggest US-invested project in Vietnam in terms of its registered investment capital. Do you think your investments will create a spillover effect for attracting more US capital to Vietnam?

I started investing in this project in 2006, so I think I am known as an investor with a vision, and I looked at Vietnam and the region as a real opportunity.

In every investment, especially in different geographies, there are always ebbs and flows, and ups and downs.

We try to stick to our beliefs in where we want to go with the project.

We can’t try to mastermind everything that is going on with potential competition or with political aspects.

We made a conscious decision when we were building this project that we would be committed to it and will continue with that commitment.

We have had the increasing support from US constituents like the ambassador and the support from locals here in Vietnam.

Taking that step and taking that risk, I think people realise that, and it is why we are a step ahead of everyone else.

Can The Grand’s international standard casino operate at full swing even though the gaming in Vietnam is still restricted to only foreigners?

Obviously the Vietnamese government is taking the right steps to make sure that if a decision is made then the framework is the right one.

The government has clearly not rushed into anything and we understood that that was the case and we were willing to take that risk.

We have put $700 million into this project, and have announced an additional $300 million in construction projects that are ongoing, and we have a world-class facility that is operational.

In addition to our announced construction projects that are ongoing, we are working with various government officials to develop the first private FBO (fixed-based operator)  airport in Vietnam to further enhance the Grand as a world-class tourist destination.

We are hoping that the partnership between us and the government can be developed to make sure that the framework they decide on is right.

We think we can be very helpful with that because of our team’s expertise in managing a casino and we are abiding by every strict international standard.

We are ready and willing and able to open our doors to help with a pilot project, if that is the government’s choice.

And quite frankly there is no better test project than our casino.

They can use it and say “that doesn’t work, let’s try this” or “that really works let’s see if we can do it a little differently and move it one way or another”.

They don’t have that opportunity in any other casino. So what better project to utilise for a pilot than ours?

We hope as the Vietnamese government looks to solidify that framework that our project will be at the forefront of defining the proper policies.

I don’t know the exact timing on it, but I would think it should be sooner rather than later and ultimately having all that in the government’s control is the path they would want to take, both from a revenue and tax perspective, but also from a social perspective.

With Vietnam’s proper local gaming decree taking shape, more investors are rushing their investments in casinos elsewhere in the country? Do you see any competition?

There will always be competition but we are light years ahead of the others.

I think we have the best proximity to the largest city in Vietnam and we’ve taken the risk and made the commitment even without the decree.

If you think about the amount of money we have put in without any decree for local gaming, imagine what we can do with a decree.

We think we are in pole position and have the right support internationally and from the US, and we are hoping that we get the opportunity to showcase our property.

I had an instinct that Vietnam was quickly on the path to becoming one of the world’s premier destinations for inbound international investments and have seen the country’s promise firsthand.

I am still as bullish today as I was a decade ago about Vietnam’s future and as an investor, I’m all in.

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