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Sands Macau set to invade
Far East market

May 11, 2004 5:14 AM

Sheldon Adelson, builder of The Venetian in Las Vegas, is set to open a 1 million square foot casino complex on the island of Macau, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of China.

The Sands Macau, which is expected to open next Monday, cost about $240 million to build and will contain up to 300 table games and 600 slot machines, as well as 18 restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

The new casino is the first of three that were authorized two years ago by Macau regulators. The second will be developed by Steve Wynn, and the third by Chinese gaming magnate Stanley Ho, who has held a monopoly on Macau gambling for more than 40 years.

Adelson’s holding company, Las Vegas Sands, has also committed to opening a second casino, the Macau Venetian Casino Resort, by June 2006, and pour in another $550 million into its Macau developments by June 2009.

Those developments fall under Adelson’s long term plans to develop a Las Vegas-style Strip between the Macau islands of Taipa and Coloane. The "Cotai Strip" would include building 20 casinos and hotels with up to 60,000 guest rooms.

For now, however, Macau has become the focus of developers because of its vast visitor potential. Located within a 200 mile radius of 1.4 billion people, Macau has been targeted as one of the fastest growing visitor destinations in Asia.

The Sands Macau is expected to compete favorably with existing casinos operated by Stanley Ho. Because of his monopoly, critics have charged Ho with neglecting to upgrade his casinos, which have been compared to the older casinos of downtown Reno or Las Vegas.

Nevertheless, his backers say Ho is ready to meet the challenge of Las Vegas-style gambling.

"We are the only one that has its roots in Macau," said Janet Wong, Ho spokesperson. "We have more than enough experience, and a good network of hotels, retail and business property."

Casino mogul Steve Wynn actually remains a kind-of wild card in the Macau market. In his office, he has a mockup of a Macau casino, which is a scaled down version of his Wynn Las Vegas resort, currently under construction.

Last year, Wynn threatened to pull out of Macau if the government failed to enact gaming reforms. It didn’t happen, but Wynn didn’t make good on his threat.

Currently, Wynn is hoping for legislative changes that would let his company extend credit to gamblers, as well as tax reforms.

Macau lawmakers for their part are working on allowing casinos to extend money to gamblers, but has so far stopped short of offering tax concessions.