Casino networks feel mainland heat - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

Las Vegas Sands' marketing agents in the mainland have so far dodged the country's gambling crackdown, but company president William Weidner said several competitors have been less lucky.

The national anti-gambling campaign launched by Beijing in January included offices and representatives of overseas casinos. According to a Ministry of Public Security report last week, police have broken up the representative networks of 14 foreign casinos.

Several were linked to border casinos such as the Li Lai International Club in Vietnam owned by Hong Kong-based Profit Come Entertainment Development. But Weidner said police have also closed offices opened by agents of rival Las Vegas casino companies MGM Mirage, Caesars Entertainment and Harrah's Entertainment.

Las Vegas Sands' agents avoided this fate by keeping a low profile. ``You can work in China as long as you do it reasonably,'' Weidner said. ``We just meet people and shake hands,'' he said, adding Las Vegas Sands' agents in China don't get involved in customers' financial arrangements. The company has a junket representative in Shanghai, among other cities, to promote the Venetian Las Vegas resort.

Caesars Entertainment spokesman Michael Coldwell said only: ``Caesars Entertainment completely complies with the government regulations in those jurisdictions in which we operate or hold interests.''

Caesars last year appointed a junket agent in north-eastern Dalian city, according to Nevada Gaming Commission records.

MGM Mirage registered its own agent in Dalian just last month. But spokesman Alan Feldman said: ``We have no offices on mainland China, so there would be none to close.''

Harrah's spokeswoman Dawn Christensen echoed Feldman. ``We don't have any offices over there so we haven't been affected,'' she said.

Junket representatives are generally independent agents paid on commission. Although they use the names of casinos they represent, any offices they set up would belong to themselves.

Las Vegas Sands plans to raise its profile in the mainland when the Venetian Macau resort opens in 2007.

The Venetian Macau will include extensive conference facilities, a big hotel and other non-gaming offerings which Weidner said he believes can be freely promoted in China.

Wynn Resorts, which is due to open its Wynn Macau next year, is taking a similar tack. ``The last thing we want to do is upset the government of China,'' said chairman Steve Wynn. ``They've very clearly drawn the line.''

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