Saturday, September 1, 2007

Venetian aims to make Macau resort city

Venetian aims to make Macau resort city
By SYLVIA HUI, Associated Press Writer

American billionaire Sheldon Adelson opened what he says is the world's largest casino floor, housed in Asia's largest building Tuesday, adding credence to this coastal Chinese city's stature among major gambling centers.

Adelson and his wife Miriam inaugurated the $2.4 billion Venetian by smashing a bottle of champagne against the front of one of the casino and hotel complex's gondolas.

Casinos like the Wynn and Adelson's Sands have led this small city in southern China past the Las Vegas Strip as the world's most lucrative gambling center.

Las Vegas Corp. Chairman Adelson wants to take it a step further with the 10.5 million square foot Venetian.

He hopes the complex will transform Macau from a gambling pit stop for Chinese tourists to a vacation and business convention destination, where visitors shop, watch shows — and roll the dice.

"Today is the beginning of what has been a dream of mine for some time — to reproduce the capital of entertainment in Asia for Asians," Adelson said Tuesday at a news conference.

Macau's casinos are currently scattered across the territory, a peninsula connected to mainland China and two outlying islands by a reclaimed strip of land called Cotai.

Adelson said his Venetian Macao Resort Hotel on Cotai is the cornerstone of what will become a concentrated resort area he calls the Cotai Strip.

Las Vegas Sands claims the 10.5 million square foot Venetian — twice the size of the Las Vegas original — is the largest building in Asia and the second largest in the world. Boeing Co. claims it has the world's largest building — a plant in Washington state.

The Venetian boasts what it claims to be the world's largest gaming space of 550,000 square feet, housing 3,400 slot machines — with room to expand to 6,000 — and more than 800 gambling tables.

It has 3,000 rooms, a 15,000-seat sports arena, retail space for 350 stores, 1.2 million square feet of convention space, fine dining and a Cirque du Soleil-produced show.

Its decor is Venice inspired — with a Chinese touch. Chinese-style sampans as well as gondolas will sail down canals. The resort also features a replica of Venice's St. Mark's Square.

Adelson also plans to open more hotels under brands such as Four Seasons, Sheraton and St. Regis. In all, his Las Vegas Sands Corp., which also runs the Sands Macao on the Macau peninsula, plans to invest up to $12 billion and build 20,000 hotel rooms on the Cotai Strip by 2010.

Some analysts say Adelson is smart in trying to lure new tourists to Macau. The convention business — a specialty of the Las Vegas Sands — is a lucrative one, they say.

"The Venetian will get new customers who are right now not going to Macau at all," analyst Billy Ng at JPMorgan Securities said.

Las Vegas Sands President William Weidner said 44 major conventions have already been scheduled at the Venetian over the next two years.

He also said he expects the Venetian Macao to lengthen the average guest stay to three to four days, from 1.2 days in other Macau hotels.

But it may take time to make Macau a major tourist destination.

Rob Hart at Morgan Stanley said Macau will never be Las Vegas.

"It's going to be slow transition ... it's never going to happen to the same extent," Hart said.

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