India a land of opportunities: Gambling tycoon

Macau: With a net worth of USD 20.5 billion, Sheldon Adelson is ranked third on the Forbes list of richest Americans. The 74-year-old chief executive of Las Vegas Sands attributes his rags-to-riches story to making right decisions at the right time.

In Macau for the inauguration of the USD 12billion Venetian Macao resort with 3,000 hotel rooms, a 15,000-seat stadium and 350 shops, besides a USD 2.4 billion gaming centre, the gambling tycoon shared with The Times of India his success story.

How do you perceive investment opportunities in India, the fastest-growing economy of the world?

I see India as a prime fertile land of opportunities. 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.

In India, the manpower is abundant and very cheap, and that makes investment very enticing. But for that to happen, certain things need to change: Govt policies need to be more liberal, and secondly, any plans can bear fruit only if my company doesn’t need to grease palms at every level. I have heard that in India, nothing moves without under-the-table dealings.

It’s highly unlikely that Indian govt is going to allow gambling. Any plans to enter hospitality sector sans gambling?

No! For me, any business decision means that I need to have a decent profit margin. Hospitality sector, in itself, is not inviting enough. I deal in big money. Hospitality may help you break even at best, but it’s largely a loss-making business. Without gambling, setting up any resort doesn’t make sense.

But hospitality sector in India has huge potential, the purchasing power is rising. India is emerging as the next superpower…

As I said, I deal in big money. I am not looking for a few dollars here and a few dollars there. I have invested over USD 2 billion on gaming alone in Macau and there’s no way I can recover the costs through hospitality.

Why Macau?

I am a businessman. When we won the bid for this land, I saw a huge opportunity for business. Manpower here is cheap. Macau is merely seen as a gambling den. I wanted to change this perception. At Venetian Macao resort, only 5% of the total space has been devoted to casinos. The rest has been taken up by hotel rooms, shops, the stadium.

There’s no place for prostitution in my resort, nothing illegal will be allowed here. I can’t risk losing my licence. I want people to visit Macau as a tourist place and not as a gambling den. It’s the only convention-based resort in the whole of Asia.

If you say that gambling is the biggest money-spinner for you, why are you trying to downplay that part of the hotel?

Just around 5% of the resort space has been allocated for casinos, but it is supposed to earn 2/3rd of my revenue. I want people to understand that there is nothing wrong in gambling, it’s a legitimate way of making your dreams come true. And you got to be squeaky clean if you are to survive in this business.

How do you aim to replicate the success of Las Vegas in Macau?

In Las Vegas, casino constitutes 35% of my business. Here 2/3rd of my business will come from gambling. Las Vegas has evolved into one of the most mature travel destinations. We had 39 million visitors this year. Tax rates in Macau are much higher than in Vegas, but we intend to balance that with the much cheaper manpower here. That’s why I see India as a prime fertile land. But…

Your mantra for success…

Making the right decisions at the right time.