South Korean casino hopes Chelsea's Mourinho will lure Chinese punters

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korean casino operator Paradise Co has hired Jose Mourinho, the outspoken manager of English football giants Chelsea, as the face of its new advertising campaign to lure punters from China, where the sport is increasingly popular.

Paradise is teaming up with Japan's Sega Sammy Holdings Inc to build a US$1.7 billion (S$2 billion) casino resort in the coastal city of Incheon, near the country's main international airport, with construction to be completed in 2017.

It faces steep competition from operators like Genting Singapore PLC and Caesars Entertainment Corp, which are moving to build their own tourist-focused resorts in South Korea, where all but one of the existing 17 casinos are open only to foreigners.

Paradise hopes Mourinho, a football manager with a string of accomplishments that includes the UEFA Champions League titles in 2004 and 2010, will now kick goals for the casino and win over Chinese customers. He replaces Hollywood superstar Robert De Niro as Paradise's brand ambassador.

It expects the Incheon resort to attract 160,000 visitors a day, of which two-thirds are likely to be Chinese.

The number of Chinese tourists to South Korea surged 52.5 per cent to 4.3 million last year, according to the Korea Tourism Organization. "The growing interest in football in China, and the fact that a significant number of casino customers are Chinese, was the main reason behind naming Mourinho as the model," Paradise said in a statement.

Gaming revenues in South Korea totalled US$2.7 billion in 2013 according to research house CIMB, slightly higher than in the Philippines at US$2.6 billion but trailing both Singapore at US$6.4 billion and the Chinese territory of Macau, at US$45 billion.

Paradise declined to disclose how much Mourinho will be paid.

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