- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

MACAU

Thousands of gamblers crowded into American billionaire Stephen Wynn’s new $1.2 billion casino resort yesterday in Macau — the Chinese territory that may soon unseat the Las Vegas Strip as the world’s gambling capital.

Fireworks showered the Wynn Macau with sparks just before its midnight opening. A huge sign lit up with red lights, while speakers blared Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady” outside the 600-room complex that hopes to lure China’s swelling population of gamblers.

Macau — a peninsula and two islands off the southeastern Chinese coast — is the only place in China that allows casino gambling. The tiny territory — less than one-sixth the size of Washington, D.C. — was a Portuguese enclave until it was handed back to China in 1999.

Zhu Jingqing, a middle-aged man from the central Chinese province of Hubei, was in the huge crowd that rushed into the casino when it opened.

“I feel that all mainlanders should come here to have a look,” he said.

Kong Ermu, 28, a Chinese tourist from the eastern province of Anhui, said, “It’s far better than what I imagined. It’s classier and comfortable.”

Mr. Wynn, 65, was one of two Las Vegas gaming tycoons who were allowed to open casinos here after the government in 2002 broke up a monopoly controlled by local mogul Stanley Ho for 40 years. Mr. Ho’s casinos were smokey, dingy venues — far from the glitz and sparkle of Las Vegas.

Ending the monopoly sparked a building boom that will bring an estimated 2,200 new hotel rooms into the market this year and another 15,000 in 2008.

“The speed of development is dizzying. The population it seeks to serve is expanding,” Mr. Wynn told reporters hours before his resort’s midnight opening.

Many think that Macau will soon overtake the Las Vegas Strip as the world’s casino capital. Last year, Macau was about even with the Las Vegas Strip, which had income of $5.3 billion.

But skeptics say Macau can’t fill all the rooms. They point out that Chinese gamblers are notorious for staying in Macau for only a day and spending most of their money at casino tables. Visitors in Macau don’t go to fancy restaurants, conventions and shows, as in Las Vegas.

But Mr. Wynn said the same was also true of Las Vegas before developers built high-quality resorts and hotels that gave tourists — even families — a reason to spend a few days in the city. He said the same if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach will work in Macau.

“We haven’t had a full-on fancy hotel built here,” Mr. Wynn said. “This is the first one.”

The Wynn Macau has a sleek design with a sloping roof. A manmade lake in front of the resort entertains crowds with jets of water that shoot up as music plays.

Mr. Wynn likes to display fine art at his properties. Reception areas at the Wynn Macau feature two original French impressionist paintings: Henri Matisse’s “The Persian Robe” and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Among the Roses.”

The casino has plush red carpeting and offers 200 table games and 380 slot machines in a hall of 100,000 square feet.

Visitors can relax in a spa, dine in six gourmet restaurants and shop in an esplanade with Bulgari, Chanel, Fendi, Prada and Giorgio Armani stores.

Mr. Wynn, the son of a bingo parlor operator, was the keno manager at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas before he bought the famed Golden Nugget casino. The billionaire developer later built the Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio resorts.

Wynn Macau’s opening comes two years after Wynn rival Sheldon Adelson, chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., opened Sands Macau. The casino has been wildly successful, and Mr. Adelson recouped his investment within the first year.

Mr. Adelson said Mr. Wynn would “do OK” but wouldn’t be very successful because his complex wasn’t an “integrated resort” that offered a wide variety of attractions.

Mr. Adelson is developing another massive project in Macau that will include casinos, a convention center, malls and Hilton, Sheraton, Shangri-la and Four Seasons hotels.

But Mr. Wynn said he wasn’t interested in large-scale projects. He also said he was confident that customers would be drawn to his high-end complex.

“We never wanted to be the biggest,” Mr. Wynn said. “We only enjoy being the best.”

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