Wynn supports government travel measures in Macau

Nov 20, 2008 7:16 PM

Staff & Wire Reports |

Casino mogul Steve Wynn said Wednesday he couldn't tell when Macau's slowdown might let up, but expressed confidence in its long-term fortunes and backed government measures to curb travel to the Chinese gambling city.

The chief executive of Wynn Resorts Ltd. also said he was in "sharp disagreement" with comments by a top executive at rival Las Vegas Sands Corp. suggesting the government's actions were harming Macau's casino industry.

Wynn, who has one resort open in Macau and a second on the way, said the government has handled "practically everything beautifully" and been "more than accommodating, more than understanding."

He agreed with recent measures to limit travel as a way to help soften the impact of the industry's spectacular growth on Macau society and prevent its economy from overheating.

"The fact that the economy and the development and expansion of Macau occurred at such a rapid rate has created a great deal of stress on the community," Wynn said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

"The central government and the Macau government putting ... a slowdown in visitation was an attempt to give the community a chance to absorb the stuff that had been built," he said.

Macau has boomed since the government started welcoming heavyweight operators like Wynn, Sands and MGM Mirage Inc. The former Portuguese enclave surpassed the Las Vegas Strip as the world's most lucrative casino market two years ago.

But revenue growth has slowed this year as the global economic slump and new travel restrictions on mainland Chinese tourists take a toll. The government started issuing the restrictions this summer to control Macau's rapid growth, analysts say.

Last week Sands announced it was suspending work on multibillion-dollar mega resorts in Macau amid a funding crunch and laying off as many as 11,000 construction workers as a result.

The company's chief operating officer, William Weidner, said earlier this week that "there have been some changes in terms of the central government's attitude toward Macau. We don't think it's necessarily all that prudent to put more money in until we see how that attitude works its way out."

Weidner's comments came at an industry investment forum in Las Vegas hosted by Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

Wynn said he didn't know when Macau might turn around given the gloomy world economy.

But China's rising middle class would help the city prosper and Wynn Resorts planned to keep developing there, he said.

"I think the market is wonderful in China," he said. "Macau has always been a tourist kind of place and it's broadened ... its appeal. And I think that's going to continue."

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