MGM Wants Partner Approved - Sunday 12th of February 2006

by Howard Stutz

Las Vegas Gaming Wire

LAS VEGAS MGM Mirage has filed an application seeking Nevada gaming regulators' approval of its partner in a $975 million hotel-casino under construction in the Chinese gaming community of Macau.

The world's second-largest casino company is seeking to have Pansy Ho, who was granted a subconcession by the Macau government to develop and operate a hotel-casino in the growing gaming jurisdiction, found suitable as its partner.

MGM Mirage said in April it would open the 600-room MGM Grand Macau in 2007 as a 50-50 joint venture with Pansy Ho. The casino has plans for 300 table games and 1,000 slot machines along with restaurants and entertainment venues.

The hotel-casino is on a waterfront near the Lisboa Casino, which Pansy Ho's father, 84-year-old Chinese billionaire Stanley Ho, owns. Construction began on the MGM Grand site last year.

Two other Las Vegas-based gaming companies are either operating or building in Macau. Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates the Sands Macau, is the master-developer of eight casino-hotel sites along Macau's neighboring Cotai Strip. The projects include the $2 billion Venetian Macau, which is scheduled to open next year.

Wynn Resorts Ltd. is building the $1 billion Wynn Macau near the MGM Grand site, which includes 600 hotel rooms and a 100,000-square-foot casino and is scheduled to open by the end of this year.

Pansy Ho's subconcession is under the concession granted to her father, who owns the competing Macau casino and has been a controversial figure in Chinese business circles. Stanley Ho's business holdings include hotels, real estate, a ferry route, Macau's largest department store, an airline, and a racetrack. Published reports have said his empire accounts for two-thirds of Macau's tax revenues.

For years, Stanley Ho has fought allegations that his Macau casinos have been involved with organized crime triads engaged in money laundering, loan sharking, drug trafficking and prostitution. His sister has alleged the triads are involved in the casino.

Pansy Ho is the oldest of Stanley Ho's 17 children and has been reported to be the heir apparent to her father's business holdings.

In a three-page filing with the state Gaming Control Board, dated Feb. 3, MGM Mirage said it was seeking a finding of suitability "for the actual and intended association of the applicant with MGM Grand Paradise," and "a finding a suitability for Macau as the jurisdiction wherein the applicant's actual and intended activities in connection with foreign gaming operations will take place."

Last year, published reports said New Jersey gaming regulators had begun looking at MGM Mirage's relationship with Pansy Ho. MGM Mirage co-owns the Borgata in Atlantic City with Boyd Gaming Corp.

Nevada Gaming Control Board sources said the agency was planning to ask MGM Mirage to file an application of suitability for the proposed Macau joint venture, of which Pansy Ho has a 50 percent ownership. But the company took the action itself to ward off being forced to comply with any formal request.

Because she is not operating a Las Vegas casino, Pansy Ho does not need a Nevada gaming license. However, under state gaming regulations, she can be considered for suitability.

"I don't want to talk about the circumstances with the filing, but I think it's a way for the applicant to clear up any questions that might be lingering with the application," Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said Thursday. "I don't even want to try and ballpark how long this investigation will take because you're looking at a foreign business and language barriers."

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman, however, said the filing was part of the normal course of business for the company. He said MGM Mirage, which is planning to operate video lottery terminals at the Aqueduct racetrack in New York, also filed an application of suitability for its partner, the New York Racing Association.

Feldman said MGM Mirage's casino competition in Macau is fueling some of the controversy surrounding Pansy Ho.

"I do know there have been some competitors that have made a lot of effort to stir up controversy," Feldman said. "They are going to be sorely disappointed because we will open successfully and do quite well. Our competitors are concerned about our entry into that market."

Last year, Las Vegas Sands President Bill Weidner told Review-Journal columnist Jane Ann Morrison that his company wouldn't have agreed to a partnership with either Pansy Ho or her father.

"We wouldn't take the risk of doing anything having to do with any Ho," Weidner said. "Anyone who understands Asian culture understands there is no such thing as competing with your dad. Anybody who thinks there isn't one boss in that whole thing is deluding themselves."

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