Foreign gaming companies eye Taiwan market - Tuesday 23rd of June 2009

MGM Mirage Corp. and Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., the two largest gaming companies in the world, are reportedly interested in entering Taiwan’s casino market.

Several reasons have led to the recent interest. The Macau gaming market has reached a saturation point. More and more tourists from mainland China are visiting Taiwan. And at the beginning of this year the Legislature Yuan passed the Isolated Islands Construction Act, which will make gambling legal in the nation’s offshore islands.

MGM Mirage has already established a foothold in Macau. It is said to be holding talks with three separate groups of Taiwanese developers, in preparation for the construction of a future casino resort in Taiwan.

According to a news report from Reuters, Lloyd Nathan, president of Global Gaming Development at MGM Mirage, has said that international gaming groups are very excited by Taiwan’s recent developments, but there are still many questions that need to be answered.

Nathan refused to disclose the name of the three partners he is holding talks with, saying only that they are all from Taiwan. These partners would shoulder the cost of building the casino resort, while cash-strapped MGM Mirage would be responsible for operating the business.

MGM Mirage is the world’s second largest gaming company. It entered a joint venture worth US$1.25 billion with Pansy Ho, the daughter of “King of Gambling in Macau” Stanley Ho, and opened the luxury hotel and casino the MGM Grand Macau in December 2007.

“Developers have always been very excited about Taiwan, but there are still many, many unanswered questions,” said Nathan. Among these are regulatory and taxation questions, questions about the general investment environment, whether mainland Chinese tourists will be allowed into Taiwan’s casinos, and so on, he said.

The dire international economic situation has meant that tourists have been less willing to spend their cash in casinos, and as a result gaming giants such as MGM, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Harrah’s Entertainment are all faced with fund shortages, brought about by a reduction in cash inflow and increasing financial burdens.

Harrah’s Entertainment, the world’s largest gaming company, is also interested in developing the Taiwan market. Michael Chen, president of the Asia-Pacific region of Harrah’s Entertainment, said in Macau recently that the Asian market is rapidly expanding, and its consumers have great purchasing power. Thus Harrah’s is considering establishing gaming operations in Taiwan and Japan.

Gary Loveman, chief executive officer of Harrah’s, visited the offshore island of Penghu last December. During his visit he paid a courtesy call to Magistrate Wang Chien-fa of Penghu County, and told him that Harrah’s was highly interested in investing in Penghu, but hoped the proposed gaming tax rates could be lowered somewhat. Only then, Loveman said, would investors be willing to invest significant amounts of money to help Penghu develop its non-gaming amusement facilities and establish a comprehensive amusement park.

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