Las Vegas Sands mulls Manchester casino

Los Angeles (Reuters) – Las Vegas Sands Corp. is interested in investing at least USD 760 million (390 million pounds) in a casino resort in the UK, but only if it can add amenities such as retail malls and permanent residences, the company’s chief operating officer said on Monday.

Speaking at the Reuters Hotels and Casinos Summit, William Weidner also said that Sands does not expect Japan to pass a law allowing casinos before next year.

The company is „looking at“ a proposed casino project in Manchester, but would only pursue the development if it can move ahead on its proven strategy of building a mixed-use destination, Weidner said.

The government’s Casino Advisory panel earlier this month named the northern city as its surprise choice to host the country’s first Las Vegas-style supercasino.

Weidner said Sands is prepared to spend at least one-and-a-half times the USD 507 million a competitor has said it would invest in Manchester.

Sands currently operates the Venetian resort and the Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Las Vegas. It also runs a casino in Macau, the only part of China where gambling is legal, which opened in May 2004.

Weidner said Sands is a builder of mixed-use developments where the casino is only part of the revenue model, and it can recoup its investment by selling off assets like retail malls and condominiums.

„If we are not allowed to exercise our business plan, then we won’t pursue it,“ he said.

The Las Vegas-based company expects to open a Venetian resort in Macau this summer and is investing USD 11 billion in a string of casino resorts in a part of Macau dubbed the Cotai Strip.

It could recoup that investment by adding at least USD 8.4 billion from the sale of retail malls and another USD 3 billion to USD 5 billion in sales of residential units, Weidner said, noting that sales of retail assets could happen as early as 2008.

He also said he expects gambling revenue in Macau, which totalled USD 7 billion last year, to reach more USD 15 billion by 2010.

Sands is awaiting approval from the Chinese government for its planned leisure resort and convention complex on Hengqin Island, off China’s southern coast.

„We’ll feel more comfortable when the master plan is finally given approval,“ but the company still expects to invest USD 400 million in the first phase of the project, he said.

Sands, which was the winning bidder for a USD 3.6 billion casino project in Singapore, remains interested in other Asian markets, including Japan, where lawmakers are discussing lifting the country’s ban on casinos by the end of 2007, the COO said.

„I am less optimistic than others. I think it would take time for them to work through the process …. I don’t think you will see anything until next year,“ Weidner said.