As James Packer's $US2.4 billion ($A3 billion) City of Dreams casino opened with great fanfare in Macau last night, after more than three years under construction, it marked the biggest gamble for the 41-year-old billionaire in his global gambling expansion.
A lot is riding on the success of the 39,000-square-metre casino built on a former swamp in the gaming mecca.
It is designed to be the flagship of Mr Packer's Asian gambling empire which he is building with Lawrence Ho, son of the Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho.
At stake are not only about $US500 million Crown has invested in its 36 per cent shareholding in the venture, but Mr Packer's reputation as a businessman, which has been bruised as his wealth more than halved over the past year in the global financial meltdown and after a series of ill-fated US casino investments.
But the opening of the prestige casino, which features a shopping precinct, its own bubble-shaped theatre, and close to two dozen restaurants and bars, comes at a challenging time. Travel demand to Macau has been hurt by the world recession and headwinds from Beijing, which last year imposed new visa restrictions to limit the number of mainland Chinese gambling in the former Portuguese colony.
Macau's gambling revenue and visitor arrivals fell every month except one between January 2008 and April. Melco Crown Entertainment, the Packer-Ho venture, posted a first-quarter loss of $US35.3 million, down from a profit of $US43.2 million a year earlier, as the decline in visitors hurt revenues at its first Macau casino, the Altira, which opened in 2007.
City of Dreams, located opposite Las Vegas Sands' huge Venetian Macao complex, starts out with about 520 table games, 1350 gaming machines and two hotels — Crown Towers and the Hard Rock Hotel — with a combined 600 guest rooms. A third hotel with 800 rooms should be finished later this year.
That compares with 350 gaming tables and about 1000 hotel rooms at Melbourne's Crown Casino, which will be expanded to about 1600 rooms by mid-2010.
(Credit: The Age)
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