This month’s opening of hotel-casino in the Chinese gambling enclave is the culmination of three quarters of a century of Las Vegas history built “in one fell swoop,” according to the president of the company behind the transformation.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, William Weidner, president of Las Vegas Sands Corp., said the 3,000-suite casino complex set to open Aug. 28 would help change a gambling den for day-trippers into an elegant resort destination.
“Vegas was really kind of a dusty railway stop from the ’30s into the ’40s,” he said. “It’s like truncating the 76 years of development of Las Vegas into one place under one roof.”
The $2.4 billion (EUR1.8 billion) property is the second for Las Vegas Sands in Macau, after it opened the Sands Macao there in May 2004.
But it is the first of several hotel-casinos the company is developing with partners on what it calls the , an area of reclaimed land in Macau meant to mimic the heart of the Las Vegas Strip at the footstep of populous Guangdong Province.
The company says will have fine restaurants, dazzling shows, luxury shops and 1.2 million square feet (110,000 square meters) of convention space, nearly twice that in all of Hong Kong.
The Sands also is set to open the 400-room Four Seasons next door by the end of the first quarter, followed by hotels under the Sheraton, Shangri-La, St. Regis and Traders brands later next year, Weidner said. Likely in 2009, the company also plans to open hotels under the Hilton, Conrad, Raffles and Fairmont brands.
In all, the company plans to invest up to $12 billion (EUR9 billion) and build 20,000 hotel rooms. All of the properties are being constructed and owned by Las Vegas Sands, with the hotels run under management contracts by the brands.
“The Venetian represents that first massive step in changing Macau from primarily a day-trip market focused on Hong Kong and Guangdong Province to a full-fledged international, multi-day, multifaceted destination resort,” Weidner said.
Other operators also are plowing billions of dollars into casinos in what used to be a seedy den for hard-core gamblers, but which has overtaken the Las Vegas Strip as the world’s most lucrative casino hub. Wynn Resorts Ltd. opened the $1.1 billion (EUR820 million) Wynn Macau last September and MGM Mirage Inc. is set to open its $1.1 billion (EUR820 million) joint venture, the MGM Grand Macau, later this year.
Some analysts have taken a wait-and-see attitude on whether the Las Vegas model of entertainment, dining, shopping and hotels will work in Macau, which had been dominated by gamblers who go for a single purpose and leave the same day.
Weidner said rooms for the first two days of the resort’s opening are expected to be booked to capacity. He said 44 major conventions are scheduled to take place there for the next two years, with convention business expected to fill about one-third of its rooms.
Another third or more of the rooms are expected to be filled by vacationers and about a fifth or more by high-rolling gamblers, who have accounted for much of the Sands’ profit in Macau to date.
“It’s exactly the same business plan that we executed in Las Vegas, repeated in Macau,” Weidner said.
Some observers have said the opening of the massive resort, the largest in Asia, will temporarily draw visitors away from other casinos. Weidner said the company even expected its property to be affected, but it hoped to offset that by opening 380 new suites there in September.
Weidner said the casino boom in Macau will not likely hurt revenues in Las Vegas, where it plans to open the $2.6 billion (EUR1.9 billion) Palazzo resort in December. The company relies on Asians for most of its high-roller business, but growth in Macau is unlikely to sate their appetite for visiting the U.S., he said.
“It’ll never match the critical mass in Las Vegas,” he said. “You’ll have certainly a much better product there in Macau and we’ll do extraordinarily well, but I don’t think it’ll affect Las Vegas at all. It won’t even hiccup.”