US billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Macau casino operator is launching its long-delayed fourth resort, a US$4.4 billion complex that is its latest bet on continued strong growth in the world’s biggest gambling market.
Sands China Ltd (金沙中國) was set to open the doors yesterday to the Sands Cotai Central with a high-wire tightrope performance and the unveiling of a 2,500kg bronze and gold “God of Fortune” statue.
The completion of the resort was delayed several years by the global financial crisis and a shortage of workers.
The resort will open in stages, with the first phase featuring 340 gaming tables and 40 VIP rooms for high-rollers. Another 200 tables are scheduled to be added later this year.
It’s the 35th casino to open in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal. Macau’s gambling revenues rose 27 percent in the first three months of this year, after rocketing 42 percent last year to US$33.5 billion, more than five times the amount earned by Las Vegas Strip casinos.
Growth has been powered by hordes of wealthy high-rolling gamblers from mainland China, who are estimated to account for more than two-thirds of total gambling revenue.
No more new casinos are expected to open until at least 2015 because of the time needed for government approval and construction.
Sands China’s next project is a 3,600-room resort on a nearby plot for which it is currently seeking planning approval, said Adelson, chairman of both Sands China and US-based parent Las Vegas Sands Corp.
“We hope to move some dirt around, [do some] compacting of the earth and put in pilings by the end of this year,” Adelson said.
Construction would take 24 to 30 months, he said.
Sands’ rivals in Macau, including Wynn Resorts Ltd (永利澳門) and MGM Resorts International, are also planning Cotai expansion projects, but are waiting for government approval.
“The Cotai Central opening will fuel increased market share for Sands because it will be the last major opening in Macau for the next couple of years,” said Michael Paladino, an analyst at Fitch Ratings.
Sands is expected to benefit from growing numbers of middle-class visitors drawn to shopping and other non-gambling attractions at Cotai’s resorts. New transportation links to mainland China and Hong Kong, an hour away by ferry, would also help boost the so-called mass market, analysts said.
The new resort’s Holiday Inn, Sheraton and Conrad hotels will have a total of 5,800 rooms when they are fully open next year. A fourth hotel tower, in the planning stages, will cost US$500 million to US$600 million, bringing the total cost to US$5 billion, Adelson said at a press conference.