From guest rooms to the tea sommelier, Lucky Dragon is designed form the ground up for Asian customers. (Photo credit: Ed Vance & Associates)

Lucky Dragon will be the Strip’s first new-from-the-ground-up casino since 2010 when it opens on December 3. It’s also the Strip’s first casino designed from scratch for Asian customers, with a particular eye on Chinese players. Fittingly, it’s financed largely from Asia through the U.S. government’s EB-5 program that offers U.S. residency to investors that pony up $500,000 for eligible projects. But unlike most casinos on the Strip looking for Asian customers, Lucky Dragon isn’t targeting visitors from Asia. Its primary market is Asians already living in North America.

With that business strategy, Lucky Dragon doesn’t need to make a big splash, it just has to ripple the right parts of the pool. In addition to the estimated 200,000 Asians living in the vicinity of Las Vegas, the resort focuses on residents of immigrant clusters. James Weidner, the son of former Las Vegas Sands President and Chief Operating Officer William Weidner, names a handful of target immigrant communities, the San Gabriel Valley in the Los Angeles area, Daly City south of San Francisco and Richmond in Vancouver.

Asian-American guests don’t face issues that can bedevil overseas visitors, such as visa requirements and currency restrictions, but it can still take special efforts to make them feel at home. For example, customers from immigrant clusters may routinely use Asian languages more often – or more comfortably – than English. So signage at Lucky Dragon will be in Chinese first, then English, and front line staff will be fluent in Asian languages as well as English. The casino will feature Asian games beyond baccarat such as sic bo – betting on the combination of three dice – and pai gow poker, where players create five- and two-card poker hands to beat the house, plus Las Vegas’ first show kitchen extending into the gaming floor.

“Authentic food – we’re obsessed with getting that right,” says Weidner, whose family shares controlling ownership of the resort with that of Lucky Dragon’s President and CEO Andrew Fonfa, a seasoned Las Vegas property developer. Working with Willy Ng, who founded San Francisco’s Koi Palace and Dragon Beaux, Lucky Dragon has crafted five F&B concepts that it hopes will make the property a must for Asian foodies on the Strip, regardless of nationality. The concepts include a frequently changing menu of Pan-Asian street food in an urban decor sit-down restaurant, dim sum and live seafood, contemporary Chinese haute cuisine and a 24 hour neighborhood diner, Chinese style. Most compelling may be the indoor-outdoor lounge and tea garden with selections from Las Vegas’ first tea sommelier, plus a full service bar, that morphs into a poolside nightspot after dark.

With just 203 guestrooms, three dozen or so gaming tables and 300 slot machines, Lucky Dragon is a boutique property that can prosper by targeting a niche market. David Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, suggests narrowly focused properties will become the Strip’s new normal as developers try to lighten the investment ante and ease the break-even burden.

James Weidner looks at the wave of Chinese immigration into U.S. and says, “We’re small enough that we can live off that.” Noting Lucky Dragon’s location near Genting’s forthcoming Chinese themed Resorts World Las Vegas, expected to tap the company’s Southeast Asia centered customer base, plus the proposed start of direct flights from Beijing to Las Vegas in the coming weeks, Weidner adds, “If we get things right, we may get international business, but we’re not banking on it.”