From Kuala Lumpur to Louiseville?

On a recent Malaysia Airlines flight, I was thumbing through their inflight magazine and inevitably made my way to their network map page. As I always do whenever I come across an airline network map, I checked to see if Louisville was listed. Much to my surprise, it was. Much more to my dismay, it was spelled Louiseville [sic].

One might be quick to dismiss a seemingly trivial mistake made by the national air carrier of a developing nation. However, the symbolism of such a mistake runs much deeper showing that Louisville is not a highly recognized brand globally, despite being ‘possibility city.’

According to the CIA Fact Book, Malaysia in 2011 produced the 36th largest GDP in the world with annual growth of 5.5%. Much of this growth is driven by global demand as evidenced by its current account surplus, 16th highest among all nations (with much of this surplus coming from U.S. trade, which accounts for more than 15% of Malaysian exports). The World Economic Forum ranks its global competitiveness 21st out of 142 nations analyzed. In short, Malaysia and its 28 million residents is no lightweight economy.

One company whose executives presumably fly Malaysia Airlines is the Genting Group, a major global casino and resort developer and operator. The Kuala Lumpur-based company employs 58,000 people, has a market capitalization of $41 billion and earned $6 billion in revenues last year. To put it in local perspective, if the company were headquartered in Louisville, it would be the city’s third-largest company by revenue behind Humana and Yum Brands.

The company is expanding aggressively globally and operates businesses in Australia, the Philippines, Singapore and the United Kingdom, where it manages a staggering 46 casinos. Here in the United States, they own and operate the Resorts World New York City Casino at Aqueduct Raceway and own 50% of Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line.

The proposed Resorts World Miami.

Last year, Genting spent $236 million dollars acquiring 13.9 acres of land in downtown Miami, where they hope to build a $3 billion, 10 million square foot project called Resorts World Miami, a mega-casino and integrated resort. The preliminary plan calls for a convention center, four hotels with 5200 rooms, 1000 condominium units in two towers, 250,000 square feet of retail, more than 50 restaurants and a 3.9-acre swimming lagoon. The plan was put on ice in February when the bill to legalize casino gambling was killed in committee by Florida’s conservative legislature, with a big assist from Disney World.

How in the world does this relate to Louisville? Well, it really doesn’t. However, it is indicative of the kind of investment that this foreign company is willing to make in the U.S. to exploit expanded gambling demand.

Would Genting ever set its eyes on Louisville if the Kentucky legislature legalized expanded gambling? Who knows, but given the expansion of gambling in surrounding states, there is obviously demand in the region. Kentuckians continue to spend money gambling in Indiana and will have four new Ohio options beginning in 2013 when full-scale casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo begin opening. And with its New York City casino at Aqueduct, Genting has already shown their interest in combining traditional casino gambling with thoroughbred racing.

Meanwhile, here in Kentucky, betting on Horseracing is down as more and more out-of-state gambling competition encroaches on the Bluegrass. As cities throughout the U.S. are trying to capitalize on expanded gambling, Frankfort fiddles with Nero-like frenzy while watching Kentucky dollars bleed away to other states.

According to various population measures, Louisville is already the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without a professional sports franchise, without non-bus mass transit and without direct international air service. Perhaps Louisville can become the largest city in the U.S. without casino gambling, too. Now that would be some kind of quadruple crown of urban incompetency.

If Kentucky’s legislature somehow legalized gambling before Florida’s, then perhaps Genting might be persuaded to shift some of its massive resources to a casino in Louisville. Given how much Americans complain about losing jobs to foreign countries and financing those countries with our trade deficit, this would represent a potential opportunity for a foreign company to provide jobs domestically and reinvest some of their trade surplus in middle America.

If that were to happen, it would most certainly raise Louisville’s international profile. And Malaysia Airlines might finally learn where Louisville is and replace Louiseville on their network map.