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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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Posted At : June 2, 2009 03:34 PM | Posted By : D McKee
Related Categories: Melco Crown Entertainment,Genting,Taxes,Current,The Strip,Atlantic City,Station Casinos,Stanley Ho,Sheldon Adelson,George Maloof,Cosmopolitan,Economy,Lawrence Ho,Steve Wynn,MGM Mirage,Penn National,Boyd Gaming,James Packer,Planet Hollywood,Macau,Cannery Casino Resorts
Although an oft-promised loosening of visa restrictions by Peking stubborny refuses to materialize, an air of cautious hopefulness has crept back into Macao now that City of Dreams has opened on schedule -- and it looks dazzling. Aggressive revenue projections have literally reversed the fortunes of co-owner James Packer, whose disastrous venture into the U.S. casino industry is now seen by some as a blessing in disguise.
At $2.4 billion, City of Dreams rivals the cost of Venetian Macao and is hoped to equal or surpass the latter's 20% return on investment. One projection has it leapfrogging Wynn Macau into third place, with 20% of the Macanese market.
It also represents a double-edged sword for Sheldon Adelson's mammoth casino-resort. If it draws more punters to the Cotai Strip™, good. If it dilutes Adelson's customer base, not so good, obviously. In comments to the Wall Street Journal, Adelson seemed at pains to temper some headstrong pronouncements he'd offered to Steve Friess. As expected, an Adelson without the restraining influences of William Weidner and Brad Stone, is a pedal-to-the-metal Sheldon, saying Las Vegas Sands should have gone faster, faster, faster with its Cotai Strip™ projects, not slower. (The mind reels.)
"I just came back from Macau and we have five or six different options that we can pursue, each one of which would solve our liquidity problems," the Venetian's doge proclaimed ... which doesn't sound a lot different from what he's been saying for months. That is, until he contradicted himself by buying up a truckload of LVS stock -- something he wouldn't have done were a major deal in the offing.
Adelson predicts all his suspended Macao projects will be back in gear by year's end. He's on the curve in one respect, suggesting that his aborted St. Regis condo-hotel on the Strip could be revived by Sands' acting as lender to prospective unit buyers. Palms Place just started doing that very thing.
Sheldon's Commissariat for Optimism never closes, so one tends to grow skeptical of each new variant of "Victory is mine!" Anyway, Adelson was just off the plane from China, so perhaps jet-lag accounts for this reality-challenged assertion: "Our numbers have been going up and the [Macau peninsula] have been going down."
'Fraid not. Scarcely had that Adelsonian utterance made print than Lusa reported May's revenue numbers. If April had seen Wynn Macau falling back toward the pack, with 13% of market share, it returned with a vengeance in May. Steve Wynn's 18% market share -- with far less capacity than Adelson -- put him only three points behind LV Sands and came at the latter's expense. Stanley Ho still leads everybody with 30% -- as much as Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Crown Entertainment and MGM Grand Macau combined.
A few days earlier came news that visitation from Mainland China to Macao had been -43% in April ... hardly propitious conditions for flooring the Cotai Strip™ gas pedal. Ditto a 10% drop in May gambling revenues. Until that much-mooted visa liberalization actually happens, going apeshit with casino-hotel construction makes no sense whatsoever.
Nor did Adelson do his public image any favors with a gratuitous slam against jilted sidekick Weidner. (The latter, given the opportunity to respond, took the high road.) This 'hit 'em when they're down' move will accrue exactly zero sympathy for Adelson -- and it might have some nasty repercussions should it hamper Weidner's attempts to find another job. Then again, he's as rich as Croesus, so he can probably spend the next few decades on the golf course, should he so desire.
There's been no additional movement on the rumored Genting Berhad offer for MGM Grand Macau. However, even in a $13.8 billion/year casino market, the numbers don't look great for MGM. After it splits its 8% market share with partner Pansy Ho, it would have $55 million from which to pay an onerous tax bill, plus operating expenses. (The ROI must be dismal.)
Borgata, in Atlantic City, does $55 million a month -- in a bad month -- and MGM basically cashes a check from Boyd Gaming. So if MGM elects to stay in Macao and vacate Atlantic City, it won't be because the Chinese enclave is contributing more to the bottom line. Who ever thought MGM Grand Macau would function as a glorified "loss leader"?
Steve Wynn has a dragon ... and now Lawrence Ho does, too.
Back home, MGM is going downmarket at The Mirage. And they didn't even have to sell the place to Penn National in order to get there.
Strangely enough ... Penn's recent expression of interest in both Planet Hollywood and Station Casinos passed with scarcely a murmur of comment locally. You'd think that a well-capitalized company like Penn's hanging of a target on Robert Earl's or Frank Fertitta III's back would make headlines -- or maybe Vegas journos have tired of Penn's endless feints and tuned the company out. Well, almost all of them, anyway.
Planet Hollywood, at least, is acting far more aggressively than one would expect from a property that is contemplating a sale. So perhaps Earl is more pursued than pursuer. However, his conversion of Desert(ed) Passage into Miracle Mile appears to have run out of steam -- or money -- at the halfway point. Try as he might, Earl is never going to completely de-Aladdin-ize that place. A magic lantern and three wishes would come in real handy down there.
Also flying under the radar was former Planet Ho boss Michael Mecca's enlistment with Galaxy. Mecca jumped -- or, more likely, was pushed -- from the Planet right when the Omar Siddiqui scandal was at its height. Informed speculation had it that Mecca was thisclose to being tapped to head up James Packer's projected North American gambling empire. Crown Ltd. CEO Rowen Craigie was noncomittal, though, and Crown's big Cannery Casino Resorts acquisition fell through soon thereafter, leaving Mecca hanging.
Success being the best revenge, Mecca not only landed a prestigious new gig -- it's with one of Packer's direct rivals in Macao. Mecca shoots, he scores!
Which brings us full circle to Macao. That worked out tidily, didn't it?