Macao casinos claim fearless to Singapore's gaming sanction - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

One day afterSingapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sanctioned two casinos in the state city on Monday, both of Macao's two leading gaming operators, despite claiming fearless to the challenge, unveiled their stunning moves for a larger picture of Macao's gaming development.

Casino mogul Stanley Ho andHong Kong's wealthy Lui family have coincidentally chose the same day to fanfare, respectively, the leasing of a gaming sub-concession to the Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage and a billion-dollar deal paving way for the Macao-based Galaxy Casino's Hong Kong listing.

"There is no such need to worry that Singapore would draw away Macao's southeast Asian customers," said Stanley Ho, managing director of the Macao Gaming Co. Ltd. (SJM), who had virtually dominated Macao's gaming industry for 43 years until May 2004, when the first American casino Sands Macao invested by the Las Vegas Sands was erected in Macao.

Soon after the inking of his first gaming sub-concession contract allowing MGM Mirage to invest in casino projects in Macao on Tuesday, Ho said that SJM is very sure of its competitiveness.

Ho mentioned that Macao's gaming business has co-existed withMalaysia's Genting Casino for dozens of years without battling for customer sources.

Meanwhile, K. Wah Construction Materials Ltd., a family business of Hong Kong tycoon Lui Che Woo, announced on Tuesday to buy a 97.9-percent stake of Galaxy Casino, which is run his son Francis Lui, to become the first Hong Kong-listed casino operator, capitalizing on investor interest in Macao's gaming market boom.

Lui said that after Macao's gaming market liberalization, which took effect in 2004, investors have been rushing to pour money building high-quality gaming facilities. Macao is undergoing a transformation from a pure gambling city towards a recreational resort destination attractive to conference organizers, vacation goers and business travelers.

Galaxy Resort and Casino obtained a license for casino operation through the government-run public bidding in 2002, with the Wynn Resorts and SJM as its major rivals. After launching business last July, the casino has taken up 14 percent of Macao's gaming market.

Galaxy earned 72.7 million HK dollars (9 million US dollars) ongaming revenues of 123.7 million (16 million US dollars) in the second half of 2004. Lui announced Tuesday that the company would invest another 5.7 billion Hong Kong dollars (730 million US dollars) on four new casino projects aiming at high rollers in Macao in the next few years.

There are now 17 casinos operating round-the-clock in Macao, which yielded 40 billion patacas (5 billion US dollars) in revenues last year, challenging the profitability of its American rival of Las Vegas. The number of gaming tables and slot machines here has reached some 1,400 and 1,000, respectively.

It seems that Macao's role as the No. one oriental gaming city will remain unchallengeable for years. With a history of the gaming business dating back over 150 years, the industry withstanding good and bad years has retained as the backbone of the economy and is getting more prosperous than ever with this newround of tourist boom. As casinos in Singapore were scheduled to be operational by 2009, it will take a long time for the state city to nurture a sustainable gaming business.

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