Casino operators set sights on Taiwan

Nov 27, 2007 5:06 AM

Casinos in Taiwan may generate $3 billion in total annual revenue should the island legislate to legalize the industry, according to Las Vegas-based industry magnate Larry J. Woolf, who manages 13 casinos in North America.

``I don’t think it’d be too much of a struggle to reach $1 billion’’ in revenue for each casino should the government allow three casinos, Woolf, Chief Executive Officer of London-listed Amazing Holdings Plc., said in an interview in Taipei.

Taiwan is considering allowing casinos on outlying islands such as Penghu. Woolf, 63, is betting the legislation will be passed, paving the way for Amazing to open the island’s first casino as rivals Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp. expand in Macau, which reaped $9.5 billion in gaming revenue in the 12 months to Sept. 30.

``Taiwan’s market potential for casino gaming revenue, in the context of large-scale integrated resort and tourism development, is significant,’’ said Jonathan Galaviz, a partner at Las Vegas-based hotel and casino consultancy Globalysis Ltd.

Amazing, which is based in the Isle of Man, plans to spend $50 million on the first phase of a 300-room hotel resort in Penghu to be opened by the end of 2009, Woolf said. The development, which will eventually be expanded to 600 rooms, is designed to accommodate a casino should the company win a license.

Casino Veteran Woolf, a 40-year casino veteran, built and operated the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which was at the time the world’s largest casino, and opened the most profitable, the Casino Niagara in Canada.

His Navegante Group Inc. manages at least seven casinos in the U.S., including the Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and the Casino Fandango in Carson City.

Now Woolf says Taiwan could build the world’s largest casino, surpassing the 800-table Venetian Macao opened by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands in August.

Taiwan’s government is discussing the feasibility of casinos and seeking public approval before opening up the market, the Government Information Office said in a statement.

A December 2005 poll of Penghu residents found 57 percent in favor of legalizing casinos, although the turnout for the vote was just 21 percent.

In addition to Penghu, Woolf recently visited the southern Taiwan county of Chiayi, which he says would also be a possible site for a subsequent casino should Amazing be allowed multiple licenses.

Currently, Taiwanese make up the largest portion of non-China visitors to Macau’s resorts with many also traveling to Las Vegas to gamble, according to Henry Tsai, assistant professor of hotel and tourism management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.