Vegas casinos set sights on Pacific Rim

Jul 17, 2001 5:12 AM

The next hot gaming venue may be in the South Pacific. Macao, a 9-square-mile appendage on China’s southeast coast, is already home to world-famous casinos operated by Stanley Ho. Now under Beijing’s control, the former Portuguese protectorate is looking for more action.

The South China Morning Post reported last week that bids for other casino interests have been narrowed to three. It was learned that Stanley Ho, who held a long-time monopoly in Macao, was one of the finalists. The government source has ruled there would be no more dominance with just one operator as in the past.

Las Vegas gamers considered as the two other candidates include Steve Wynn and MGM MIRAGE (MGG) to operate casinos in the providence of 440,000 people.

“Macao casinos could be virtually a license to print money,” said a source who asked not to be identified.

Speculation was heightened last week when MGM Mirage named MGM Grand President Bill Hornbuckle as corporate executive vice president for marketing. “MGM is going after Macao and Bill is the point man,’’ said one industry source speaking on condition on anonymity.

MGM Mirage officials would not comment on their plans, but the Beijing government has given assurances that under its “one country, two systems’’ formula, China’s communist economic system will not be imposed on Macao. Like Hong Kong, just 40 miles away, Macao is seen by the Chinese as a potential cash cow.

Meantime, here at home, Las Vegas resort operators have dampened expectations for growth along the Strip.

“You won’t ever see the kind of growth we’ve seen in the last 10 years,’’ Mandalay Resorts President Glenn Schaeffer flatly declared last month. “That will never happen again.’’

But pressed by anxious shareholders, gaming companies are equally blunt about the imperative for growing new business ”” wherever it can be found.

“Times have changed,’’ said MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman. “We have to show as much revenue as possible. We’re trying to find as much as we can.’’