Sheldon Adelson weighs India and Japan casino plans at Macau opening

Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s billionaire Chairman Sheldon Adelson opened the world’s biggest casino in Macau and unveiled ambitions to expand in India and Japan as Asian gambling booms.

The new 3,000 room Venetian Macao resort aims to tap China’s 1.3 billion people, and Adelson said he’s also keen on opening in the world’s second-most populous nation. „We are very much interested in, one, attracting Indians to come to Macau, and two, establishing in India, when the government makes the necessary changes,” Adelson said at the opening ceremony in the Chinese city.

Sands and rival Wynn Resorts Ltd. are racing for a slice of the gaming market in Asia, where economies are growing faster than in Europe and the United States. The Venetian, with 870 gaming tables and an indoor recreation of Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, is part of an USD 11 billion investment in Macau by Adelson, who has also won the right to build a casino in Singapore.

„This is a big bet,“ said Billy Ng, a Hong Kong-based analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “There could be some missteps in the beginning, but we expect things to start moving up in about a year.“

Las Vegas Sands shares fell 3.9 percent to USD 97.79 in US trading yesterday. The company yesterday said the first stage of its Macau project cost USD 2.4 billion, 33 percent more than earlier estimates. Adelson, dismissed suggestions he’s overreaching.

“There’s absolutely no question about the viability of this project whatsoever,“ he said. “It’s the job of the analysts to be skeptical. It’s my job as an entrepreneur to be visionary.“

Macau, the world’s busiest gaming hub, is the only place in China where casinos are legal. Macau last year overtook the Las Vegas Strip in revenue. Sands says the new Venetian is twice the size of its Las Vegas namesake resort, and is the world’s second- largest building after Aalsmeer flower market in the Netherlands.

Adelson said he’s not interested in opening in Taiwan, because Macau is too competitive. Still, India is an option. He also said he’d also like to open in Japan. “It looks like it’s the next place to legalize gaming,“ he said in an interview yesterday. “It depends on the government, but we’d be the first candidate.“

The Venetian Macao is the first casino built on the Cotai Strip, reclaimed land between the city’s Coloane and Taipa Islands. There are 350 shops, more than 30 restaurants and three canals, along with a replica of the Rialto Bridge.

In July, Macau tourist arrivals increased 23 percent from a year earlier to 2.21 million, according to the city’s government. Macau has a population of about 520,000 people.

The Las Vegas Sands resort dwarfs the 12 casinos built in Macau since Adelson opened the city’s first foreign-owned casino in 2004, ending rival billionaire Stanley Ho’s 40-year gambling monopoly. Adelson ranked sixth in Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people this year.

Las Vegas Sands and competitors including Wynn Resorts and MGM Mirage are betting that China’s rising wages will fuel Macau gambling and tourism growth.

Gambling income currently makes up about 95 percent of Macau operator earnings, according to Ken Yeung, a Hong Kong-based analyst at BOCI Securities Ltd. Las Vegas Sands aims to tap convention and exhibition markets to achieve its aim of increasing the average visitor stay.

Wynn is pulling back, and replaced the President of its Macau casino and hotel in July. The company in June slowed its Macau expansion because China tightened visa requirements. “We think it’s a big mistake,“ Sands President William Weidner said in an interview in Macau yesterday. “We are all in and we’ll build more and more and more.“