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Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 12 News List

US tycoon opens casino in Macau

AP , MACAU

Thousands of visitors try to enter the newly opened Sands Macao casino in Macau yesterday. Several people were hurt as they broke through glass doors.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A Las Vegas tycoon raised the stakes in Macau's gambling industry yesterday with a new casino that will bring competition to the tiny enclave's top industry for the first time in more than 40 years.

The operator of the Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip, Sheldon Adelson, hopes that a big dose of Nevada's glitter and glitz will attract the mainly Chinese gamblers who drop billions of dollars every year at casinos run by the Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho.

The Las Vegas Sands, which was to open its doors to gamblers yesterday afternoon, cost US$240 million and will feature 277 gaming tables and 405 slot machines.

"It looks so grand. I'll definitely go there and have a look," said Vincent Zhao, a 20-year-old hotel clerk in Macau.

Adelson made his mark in Las Vegas with the Venetian, a replica of Venice complete with canals and singing gondoliers, and wants to create an Asian version of the Strip later in Macau with another artificial Venice.

Adelson won one of three gaming licenses when Macau decided in 2002 to open its industry to competition after Ho held a monopoly for four decades.

Ho will stay in the game, and the other license went to Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, who has been holding off on his plans while waiting for Macau to changes its laws and let casinos provide credit to players.

Ho said he welcomes the competition.

Macau's casinos are just 60km west of Hong Kong, and they attract Hong Kong gamblers -- who have no casinos at home -- in droves. A boom in business from the growing mainland Chinese economy is also anticipated.

The entry of the Las Vegas operators into Macau is already reshaping this formerly sleepy territory that was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999 after more than four centuries of rule from Portugal.

The economy is booming in double digits and Ho's company last year paid Macau unprecedented profit taxes of 10.1 billion patacas (US$1.3 billion), a 31 percent increase from 2002.

But critics say Ho coasted for too long with no competition and the industry needs to spiff up.

"Macau has nothing to offer right now," said Ted Loh, managing director of the online gambling consultancy Orientgaming.com. The arrival of the Sands -- which is "much more spectacular than the Lisboa" -- will force changes, he said.

Ho is responding by polishing up his flagship Lisboa and he plans a 40-story luxury hotel-casino -- along with an amusement park.

"As long as he can keep up with the competition, he's still going to be the major player in Macau. He's unavoidable," Loh said.

But service will have to improve, Loh said. One practice that should stop: Dealers in Ho's casinos trying to give themselves tips when they hand over winnings to lucky players.

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