Macau players face travel restrictions

Jun 5, 2007 5:20 AM

New visa restrictions imposed last week on travel between Macau and neighboring Guangdong Province to the north have followers of the Macau casino business wondering what it all means.

About 250,000 people cross the border daily at Zhuhai on the Guangdong side.

Jack Binion who formerly ran Steve Wynn’s Macau hotel and casino said it could have been worse. "They (Chinese authorities) could have done a whole lot more. Let’s hope they don’t. This shows they are keeping a close eye on the situation."

Las Vegan Larry Woolf, a recent consultant for Galaxy, which has Macau casinos, said, "I think this will send something of a shock wave among investors as they consider how vulnerable Macau is to something like this."

But he said the likely ultimate reality is that millions of very wealthy people will still be able to obtain the visas they need. "I think these restrictions involve a certain amount of posturing."

But getting back to the long-term impact to changes that, among other things, mandate a two-month wait between visits and a 10-day instead of a six-day application period, it will probably take a while to sort things out. Are the changes a knee-jerk reaction that might be adjusted as time goes by?

That’s the big question.

Melco eyes Strip deal

Will Hong Kong-based Melco become part of the Packer-PBL effort to carve out a niche on the Strip? Senior industry sources believe such a move appears possible at some point, but it is hard to say when.

PBL and Melco have a three-year-old joint venture agreement to create casinos in Macau and on the re-claimed land of the Cotai area to the south. But recent news reports that point to the pain of cost over-runs suggest the partnership has its hands full there for the time being.

Melco is headed by Lawrence Ho, another of the Stanley Ho children who has a big job with big responsibilities. Daughter Pansy Ho received recent Nevada approval as MGM’s partner on Macau but the outcome of a New Jersey investigation of the partnership remains uncertain.

Stanley Ho would like to see his children overcome the challenges posed by his dark legacy and bring sanitized versions of his Macau gaming operations to the U.S. But we may not see Melco attempt a U.S. investment with or without PBL until the outcome of Pansy’s licensing process is known in New Jersey. Lawrence would have to deal with the same issues that still confront Pansy.

UAW on casino roll

The United Auto Workers Union is believed to be eyeing casinos in the Chicago and Mississippi areas following another big win in Atlantic City where about 70 percent of the dealers voting last week said they want the UAW to bargain for them.

Casino industry leaders in Atlantic City had been hoping the union effort might have run out of steam after losing two close recent elections at the Atlantic City Hilton and Trump Marina.

Executives who shared views only with the promise that they would not be quoted since they are still dealing with the unions, believe Harrah’s has done little to alleviate employee concern about the impact of the company going private.

Another Harrah’s property Caesars Atlantic City also lost badly to the union weeks ago.

What happened? Observers point to a recent "effective ad" placed by the union that urged Harrah’s employees to look carefully at the big guarantees current Harrah’s management will have as the company is bought by Texas Pacific and Apollo Management. Atlantic City dealers have also been witnesses to the hundreds of cutbacks at the Tropicana since it was bought by another private company Columbia Sussex.

There’s no word on how quickly the UAW might begin card signing efforts among employees at casinos in Chicago and Gulf Coast.

The Harrah’s sale will probably be ready to go before the New Jersey Casino Control Commission by September or October. It is tentatively set for consideration by Nevada authorities in November.

WSOP extends licensing

The World Series of Poker is under way at the Rio and the big thinkers plotting marketing strategy have dramatically increased the number of groups entitled to hold satellite events that award entries into the WSOP’s main event — the $10,000 buy-in no limit Texas hold ’em tournament that last year awarded a first place prize of $12 million on the basis of more than 8,700 entries.

The 2006 main event entry total was driven by the kind of Internet action that is now illegal. So the Harrah’s-owned World Series is licensing about 175 organizations domestically and around the world to hold satellites. That compares with about three-dozen a year ago.