MGM to Open Casino in Macau

Hong Kong (AP) — The MGM Grand Macau opens its doors Tuesday, becoming the latest Las Vegas-backed casino to crowd into the tiny Chinese gambling enclave hoping to lure China’s growing middle class.

The USD 1.25 billion MGM Grand is a joint venture between Las Vegas casino operator MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho, the daughter of Macau’s former casino kingpin, Stanley Ho.

It will vie for high rollers with dozens of casinos already stationed in Macau, the only place in China were gambling is legal and which last year raked in more gaming revenue than the Las Vegas Strip.

Stanley Ho ran the casino business in Macau for 40 years until 2001 — two years after the then-Portuguese colony returned to Chinese rule — when the government broke up his monopoly and handed out gaming concessions to foreign interests.

American Sheldon Adelson was the first to enter the territory, opening the Sands Macau in 2004, and then this August the USD 2.4 billion Venetian, a Las Vegas style mega casino-resort complete with Italian gondolas punting down indoor canals.

Pansy Ho said the 600-room MGM Grand will target the wealthiest gamblers, called „VIP customers“ in the business, who are interested in top-end shopping and entertainment as well as gambling.

She dismissed concerns that the casino was squeezing into a corner of Macau’s main island that was already packed with luxury gambling resorts, including some run by her family.

„These few casinos will actually work in conjunction to present a really formidable proposition to all VIP customers that this should be the center of the high-rolling gaming experience,“ she said in Macau last week during a preview tour of the hotel.

The 35-story MGM Grand boasts a huge atrium with a glass ceiling that’s 20 feet high and is modeled on the central train station in Lisbon, a nod to the territory’s Portuguese heritage. Abstract hand-blown glass sculptures by U.S. artist Dale Chihuly are scattered around the plush lobby.

The hotel offers 400 gambling tables, 800 slot machines and 16 private gaming rooms, comparable to its closest rivals, U.S. tycoon Steve Wynn’s casino and the Crown Macau.

Both the USD 1.1 billion Wynn and the Crown Macau, a joint venture between Australia’s Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd. and Hong Kong-based Melco International Development Ltd., run by Pansy’s brother, Lawrence Ho, have positioned themselves as high-end casinos.

The Grand is MGM‘s first entry into Asia. While the jury is still out on whether Asian gamblers respond to the same type of non-casino entertainment as those in Las Vegas, it was expected to be a successful launch, said Jonathan Galaviz, a partner at Globalysis Ltd., a Las Vegas-based consultancy.

„MGM Mirage has an excellent Asian consumer base that patronizes their integrated resorts in Las Vegas. Their new Macau property should benefit from these pre-existing customer relationships,“ he said.

However, analysts warned that Macau was reaching „opening fatigue.“

„We’re not seeing the big jump in gaming revenues with every new opening that we saw with the early casinos,“ said Rob Hart, a Morgan Stanley analyst in Hong Kong.

However, with 100 million people just next door in China’s wealthiest region of Guangdong, and with average salaries of 1 billion people in mainland China on the rise, Hart said there was still huge growth potential for Macau’s gaming industry.