May 26, 2015 2:20 AM
Channeling Batman, Versailles: Macau's new wave of resorts
The Associated Press
MACAU (AP) Macau is doubling down even as the odds change. The world's casino capital this week welcomes the first of a new wave of lavish casino resorts for its up-and-coming Cotai Peninsula.
It's a $20 billion bet by casino operators amid an extended losing streak in the tiny Chinese enclave. Gambling revenue growth has been falling for nearly a year as wealthy mainland Chinese high-rollers stay home as a result of President Xi Jinping's corruption crackdown.
Macau's casino operators are undaunted. None have backed off their expansion plans which will unfold over the next two years, sticking to a belief that the downturn is temporary and the decline in VIPs will bottom out soon.
They're also optimistic Beijing's support for Macau's long term development from a seedy, vice-ridden backwater into a glitzy Asian destination will draw a growing numbers of middle class families from across the region looking for more than just gambling.
"Our strategy remains unchanged," Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson told analysts last month.
Macau's upcoming casino resorts:
Hong Kong real estate tycoon Lui Che-woo's Galaxy Entertainment Group is set to cut the ribbon on its $2.8 billion expansion. The company's massive gold-tinted Southeast Asian-inspired complex adds a third hotel tower and new aquatic attractions including a 575-meter adventure river ride, which joins an existing wave pool. Across the street, via an air-conditioned footbridge, is its revamped Broadway Macau hotel and entertainment center. It includes a replica of a traditional street market stocked with hawker food stalls, street performers and a 3,000-seat theatre for live shows.
Melco Crown Entertainment embraces Hollywood and Batman with its $3.2 billion Art Deco-style resort. CEO Lawrence Ho, son of longtime Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho, enlisted A-listers Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio for a promo film directed by Martin Scorsese. The Golden Eye ferris wheel straddles the hotel's two wings 130 feet (40 meters) up, making it the highest in Asia. The design was inspired by two asteroids shooting through a Gotham City building, according to a press statement. There's also a Batman virtual reality ride and a nightclub modeled on those in the Mediterranean club capital of Ibiza.
U.S. casino mogul Steve Wynn boasts that his $4.1 billion Wynn Palace will be the place for pictures and selfies when it opens next year. Guests will ride air-conditioned gondolas 30 feet (nine meters) over an artificial lake to the front door. "In a few months when we fill the lake and turn on the fountains, and the gondolas start to flow, it will be the photo-op in China, just as the Bellagio was" in Las Vegas, Wynn told analysts in an earnings call last month. "It will be the photo-op in China. There's never been a hotel at this scale in Macau." VIP gambling rooms will have terraces looking out onto the lake, allowing gamblers to easily step outside for cigarette breaks, the billionaire said. That could give the company an edge over rivals for mainland Chinese gamblers, known for their penchant for puffing, as the government restricts smoking on casino floors, Wynn said.
Sands' Chinese arm adds to its portfolio of faux-European resorts in the former Portuguese colony with a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. The $2.7 billion, 3,000-room Parisian sits next to Sands' flagship property in the Chinese enclave, the giant Venetian Macao, which itself is a replica of Venice. The Paris theme is a canny marketing move for Sands, given the popularity of France as a travel destination among mainland China's growing ranks of newly affluent. A shopping mall replicates the feel of the City of Light's boulevards, with sidewalk cafes, bistros and 130 boutiques divided up into areas named after the Avenue des Champs Elysees and other districts.
One of Macau's smaller players, MGM Resorts International makes its Cotai debut next year with a $3 billion casino resort. Little has been revealed about the project, which will have 1,500 hotel rooms and looks like a collection of multi-hued building blocks stacked on top of each other with squarish patterns overlaid on the facade. MGM's Macau business operates one other casino in Macau's older, crowded peninsula.
Macau's most exclusive resort is being developed by one of its most flamboyant tycoons. The Louis XIII is billed as an "ultra-luxury destination" aimed at the richest of the rich. Elevators will open directly onto each of its 200 suites, including a 20,000 square foot (1,860 square meter) villa with a reported cost of $130,000 a night. The hotel will be wrapped in a crimson facade with a 20-meter imitation diamond perched at the top. To ferry guests around, the hotel bought a fleet of 30 Rolls Royce Phantom limos for $20 million, making it the British carmaker's biggest ever single order. Former investment banker Stephen Hung, the ostentatious tycoon behind the $1.5 billion project, named it after the French king who began the Palace of Versailles site as a hunting lodge. Hung hired a Bourbon princess descended from Louis XIII to be an adviser.
A four-decade monopoly allowed Stanley Ho's SJM to dominate Macau's casino industry until the market was opened to other players in 2002. The company was slow in expanding into Cotai, Asia's version of the Las Vegas Strip, and is now racing to catch up with its first project there, the $3.9 billion Lisboa Palace, set for a 2017 opening. The project is clearly aiming at wealthy mainland Chinese and their preference for upscale European luxury brands with designer hotels by Versace and Karl Lagerfeld, each with 270 rooms. The resort's architectural style will combine influences from Parisian landmarks such as the Louvre with Chinese elements such as dragons, phoenixes and peach blossoms.