Keppel Land’s US partner Harrah’s may opt out of race for Sentosa integrated resort

Casino giant Harrah’s may have given its hand away.

The three-day Asian Casinos Executive Summit – which ends today – was packed with players expected to fight it out for the Sentosa integrated resort (IR).

CapitaLand registered four delegates, Genting International had two, while casino developer Eighth Wonder sent both their chairman and chief executive.

In contrast, the sole delegate registered under Harrah’s Entertainment failed to turn up. Its partner Keppel Land did not even bother to register a representative at the conference.

To those observing the race to land Singapore’s second casino, this seemed yet another sign that the two will probably not show up at the Singapore Tourism Board next Monday — their deadline to submit $ 400,000 and relevant documents for mandatory probity checks.

There have been other telltale signs hinting that Harrah’s heart is no longer in this race.

According to sources close to the proceedings, Harrah’s-Keppel Land have released their appointed Sentosa IR architect: United States-based Jon Jerde, who helped design the Bellagio and Wynn casinos in Las Vegas.

Said the source: “Either they’ve found a new architect, or they’re out of the race.”

Word among architects here is that Harrah’s-Keppel Land has not engaged any local architectural firm so far. For the Marina Bay bid, in which Harrah’s were considered front-runners before eventually losing out, they had engaged P & T Consultants here to support the internationally-acclaimed Daniel Libeskind.

P & T declined to comment on whether it will continue to be involved in the Sentosa IR bid.

Sources within the government-linked Keppel Land also revealed that 20 staff – or half of the original team formed to work on the Marina Bay IR — have since been redeployed to other departments.

Said Merrill Lynch gaming analyst Sean Monaghan: “I think it is reasonable to assume that Harrah’s will not be continuing with the bid. They are a good company but what is their competitive advantage for Sentosa? Genting is going to be very aggressive, and with their Universal tie-up and relationship with Star Cruises, they are going to be tough to beat.”

Said another industry source: “They’ve probably done their sums, carried out an internal review and decided that the odds are not worth the risk.”

Harrah’s-Keppel Land would have easily spent at least $ 10 million participating in the first bidding process, say analysts.

Mr Monaghan also said that Harrah’s may be considering Japan as an alternative footprint in Asia, albeit after 2010 when casinos may be legalised in Japan.

Japan’s gaming adviser Toru Mihara said yesterday at the casino conference that the country was in talks with casino operators such as Harrah’s Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands to operate Japan’s first casino.

Meanwhile, Harrah’s-Keppel Land is keeping a poker face over the speculation.

Both parties said they were “still considering their position on the Sentosa IR and will make an announcement in due course”.

“From my understanding, Harrah’s was not so keen to go ahead, but as a property developer with no casino operating expertise, Keppel Land obviously couldn’t go it alone,” said a source.