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The Asian Vegas

Macau, once a seedy and corrupt outpost, is blossoming into a gambling mecca
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Haysbert, Nov/Dec 2006

(continued from page 2)

And, no doubt, that windfall—and the potential to earn even more—stokes Adelson's enthusiasm for Macau's biggest undertaking of all: a long street lined with Vegas-style hotels that will be known as the Cotai Strip and mimic the famous Las Vegas Strip. It is here that Steve Wynn's proposed Ferrari Hotel and Casino is slated to be parked. Anchoring the Strip will be the Venetian. Even Terry Lanni, who believes "the high action will be downtown, where Wynn and MGM are; Cotai Strip will be for families, business and conventions," might build over there.

The biggest commitment to Cotai comes from the Venetian. (Las Vegas Sands Corp. founder Sheldon Adelson is worth a reported $16.1 billion and is ranked by Forbes as the 14th richest person in the world.) Rather than simply building a bigger and better knockoff of his Vegas place, Adelson will serve as partner and primary investor on much of the Strip. But that was not the initial plan.

Originally, his less ambitious goal was to do a Sino version of the Vegas Strip with the involvement of hoteliers such as Steve Wynn. "We talked to Mr. Wynn about being on the Strip, and he declined to join us," says Weidner. "Now he has decided to be involved and has approached the government about developing his own property near where we are. We can care less. We have moved on." (Wynn says he was too involved in the construction of Wynn Las Vegas to jump on board when the Cotai invitation was first offered.)

Employing an innovative approach, the Venetian has aligned itself with hoteliers such as St. Regis, Sheraton, Hilton and Four Seasons to manage the Cotai hotels, while the Venetian will handle the casino action and construction of the properties. These alliances create the illusion of many individual hotel-casinos, but they're all under the umbrella of the Venetian. "You'll look down this strip in Macau and it will be like the Vegas Strip, with branded hotels that are full-fledged casino developments," predicts Weidner. "These properties will be developed with air-conditioned walkways [connecting them], and we will drive midweek activity with the convention business."

Ask Wynn if he feels bad about opting out of Adelson's Cotai and he doesn't look the slightest bit remorseful. He says Cotai is where he'll build three or four properties. But that's for tomorrow. At the moment, he's focused on the Wynn and looking to pace himself. "I've chosen a slower and more conservative path [than Adelson has]," says Wynn. "I passed on the chance of the quick one; I want to build an enduring reputation in Asia. We've just started here and we have a long way to go. We want to make the best possible impression, so it's important for us to do things right rather than fast."

A notorious perfectionist, Wynn designed his Macau gaming floor so that it remains airy but subtly breaks up into zones, using drapes and columns to create intimacy and simulate the clustered areas that Stanley Ho's players became accustomed to. As in Vegas, Wynn's 600 guest rooms in Macau are oversize, with luxurious bathrooms and comfy beds angled toward picture windows. Putting a spin on the famous dancing fountains that front the Bellagio, Wynn is imbuing the water in Macau with a crowd-pleasing fire show. He's importing brand-name chefs from Hong Kong and loading his shopping concourse with top-shelf retailers such as Gucci, Christian Dior and Chanel.

Maybe realizing how revolutionary it is for a Chinese city to be courting Western-style gambling, big-ticket designer commerce and the healthy capitalistic competition that comes with it (Stanley Ho recently complained about the Sands' bare-knuckle competitive tactics, which are common in Vegas but novel to him), Wynn considers all that he and Adelson and Lanni are bringing to Macau. "Companies like mine are being used as instruments of change here," explains Wynn, referring to Macau's speedy evolution into a top-flight tourist destination. "The government here is saying, 'Use your capital, and if you make money, congratulations. Use your expertise, make the changes we want, and we'll support you.'"

Not needing to mention that Macau's desired changes jibe perfectly with the heavy commerce that Wynn and his competitors intend to bring, he adds, "This is a real cool place to do business, and it's turning out great."

Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.

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