Posts Tagged ‘Las Vegas Sands’

Sands Cotai opens in falling Macau tide

September 24, 2012

The world’s biggest Sheraton hotel opened at Sands Cotai Central last week, part of the Macau resort’s second phase that includes a South Pacific themed casino and dozens more retail shops. I covered the phase one opening in April, including an up close and personal encounter with Sheldon Adelson, the chairman of Sands China and its parent company, Las Vegas Sands.

I’ll be writing more about Sands Cotai Central (SCC) for Asia Times and about Macau casino trends for Macau Business magazine in the weeks ahead.

Until then, consider that SCC has opened into the teeth of a rare run of slowing casino revenue growth in Macau. The situation resembles conditions facing the 2009 opening of City of Dreams, SCC’s neighbor on the east side of Cotai’s main boulevard, across the Venetian Macao.

In 2009, the main problem was restricted visas for mainland travelers. In the three years since, Macau has become even more dependent on mainland visitors, and now it’s seeing slowing growth in step with China’s decelerating economy. For better or worse, analysts see Macau resorts becoming more closely tied to the mainland economy in the years ahead. Rather than spreading their bets, it seems Macau’s casinos have doubled down on the mainland.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Macau bribe tale winds toward Beijing, Vegas

July 18, 2012

Last month, just after the great and good of the casino industry gathered for Global Gaming Expo Asia in Macau, the Wall Street Journal showcased the world casino capital’s shady side. The newspaper reported that Macau lawyer and legislator Leonel Alves passed along a $300 million bribe request to casino operator Sands China from a “high ranking” Beijing official.

I wrote that the report raises more questions than it answers. Among other things, I suggested the Beijing angle on the bribe could be camouflage for local graft; Alves, who’s been all over the place in his explanations, said in a recent radio interview that there was a Macau developer involved. My Asia Times article also suggested potential legal troubles for Sands China and parent company Las Vegas Sands stemming from the incident, even though it’s clear that the proposed bribe was not paid.

Answers are emerging thanks to a ProPublica investigation of Alves and his relationship with Sands China. The probe leads straight to Sands China chairman, Las Vegas Sands founder and my press conference pal, Sheldon Adelson, a key Republican and Likud Party benefactor. Stay tuned.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at, follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Hard ten coming for casinos in Macau

June 26, 2012

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the real start of Macau’s gaming liberalization. The contracts that brought American casino operators Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands to Macau were signed in late June 2002.

Less than two years later, the first Vegas-style casino, Sands Macao, opened. Macau was on its way to becoming the world’s largest gaming destination, with more than five times the casino revenue of Las Vegas last year. Casino operators have pocketed billions in profits from their Macau operations.

It’s been an easy ten years since liberalization, but now Macau casinos face a difficult decade ahead. They must contend with increasing competition from other Asian gaming destinations and among themselves. There’s also uncertainty about the continued flow of players across the border from mainland China, by far Macau’s main market, as Beijing goes through a wrenching leadership change.

But most of all, the casinos must handle the uncertainty of license renewal. As I wrote in Asia Times, gaming concessions will expire by June 2022, giving the Macau government more leverage to demand more from the casinos now. There also a chance that licenses won’t be renewed for one or more of the current concessionaires, most likely an American one, and no clear timeline or guidelines on the criteria for renewal. For casinos, that adds up to a lot of gray hairs and brown noses in the decade ahead.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at

Shot down by Chairman Sheldon

April 14, 2012

Covering the Sands Cotai Central opening on April 12 included attending the news conference with top executives of Sands China and its parent company Las Vegas Sands (LVS). That put me squarely in the sights of the billionaire chairman of both companies, Sheldon Adelson.

During the question and answer period, I introduced myself as Muhammad Cohen from Asia Times and Macau Business, then asked company executives whether they regretted their decision in the face of the 2008 credit crunch to continue building Marina Bay Sands in Singapore while mothballing Sands Cotai Central, initially slated to open in 2009. The Wall Street-led crisis drove LVS to the brink of bankruptcy, requiring a $2 billion lifeline from Adelson. Marina Bay Sands, which cost nearly $6 billion, has become the most profitable casino resort in the world in operating terms. With its delay, Sands Cotai Central has cost $4.4 billion, making it Macau’s most expensive resort to date.

LVS president and chief operating office Michael Leven explained that Marina Bay Sands was already fully financed before the crisis hit, while Sands Cotai Central was only partially funded, based on lenders preferences for the two projects. “I regret that we didn’t complete [Sands Cotai Central] two-and-a-half years ago, because Macau would now be further ahead,” Leven added. “We’re really happy to be able to open it today. This puts the exclamation point at the end of the sentence. It’s a game changer for MICE [meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions] in Macau.”

As I furiously scribbled what Leven had said, I heard Chairman Adelson say my name as he unloaded with both barrels.

“I’ve read what you’ve written, Muhammad, and it’s not true,” the 78 year old worth $24.9 billion said. “We didn’t take the money from Macau to Singapore. Not a single pataca, not a single penny went from here to Las Vegas, or from here to Singapore.”

There’s not much I could say in response to that kind of public shoot-down, particularly when it comes from the most powerful man in the global gaming industry, accompanied by his band of security guards. And especially since I never wrote what Adelson said I did.

The charge that LVS has used its Macau profits elsewhere has been raised. Macau Business made reference to that sentiment when it reported Adelson’s earlier “not one pataca” denial a couple of years ago, But I’ve certainly never written that LVS is taking money from Macau for projects elsewhere. The real issue, which neither Leven nor Adelson addressed, was the local political damage done. A lot of people remember that LVS continued work in Singapore while pausing in Cotai during Macau’s moment of crisis, the one time during the company’s Macau tenure when the city really needed the construction jobs and related commerce. Macau also presents a far more important long term opportunity than Singapore, where revenue growth has already shown signs of stagnation and government regulations restrict opportunities.

I spent the rest of Sands Cotai’s opening day basking my ill-gotten notoriety, refuting my culpability to all I met, from Sands China president and CEO Edward Tracy to analysts who suddenly recognized me. “At least he knows your name,” several consoled me.

Sipping champagne ahead of the black tie gala dinner (to which my invitation must have been lost), I managed to issue my denial to Dr Miriam Adelson, the chairman’s wife during the course of a delightful chat. I hope she passed the word to the next pillow.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at

Sands China rolls 7-8 craps in Macau

December 10, 2010

Bulletin: My blog entry Twenty reasons Barack Obama stinks has been nominated for the 3QuarksDaily Prize in Politics. Please vote here if you enjoy the piece. First prize is $1000, and, of course, a quark. So please vote now.

Macau aims to diversify its gambling-addicted economy, a course Beijing urges at every opportunity, as the city’s gaming revenue climbs beyond $2 billion a month. Last week, Macau rejected Sands China’s bid for Lots 7 and 8 to build a new casino resort in the Cotai entertainment district. But Macau’s decision may have no connection to economic diversification.

A subsidiary of US-based Las Vegas Sands, Sands China has spearheaded efforts to create an Asian version of the Las Vegas Strip in Cotai, a landfill connecting Macau’s outer islands of Coloane and Taipa. Following its $12 billion master plan, Sands China has already opened the Venetian Macao, and the Four Seasons/Plaza complexes, and has another 6,400 room casino resort under construction. Sands China says it invested more than $160 million in Lots 7 and 8 based on an informal grant from the Macau government several years ago.

In tiny Macau, land is the most valuable commodity, and the government controls it. Formal approval for land concessions in Macau routinely comes long after the designated developer begins work. Sands China has every right to feel that it got a raw deal. It has appealed the decision to Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on. The company could also take its case to court. But in Macau, where matters are habitually decided behind closed doors and without public explanations – news about Lots 7 and 8 came from Sands China, not the government – it’s tough to beat the house.

Losing Lots 7 and 8 hurts Sands China but, as I wrote in Asia Times, the meaning for Macau is far less clear. Denying the application seems to be a move to limit future gaming, but it’s likely that the land will be granted to one of Sands China’s rivals to build its own casino resort.

Macau’s government may have a grudge against Sand China, even though it’s the casino developer that provides the most diverse non-gaming amenities at its resorts, including shopping malls, a 15,000 seat arena, a Cirque du Soleil production, and a 1,000,000 square foot convention center, all money losers to date. Macau added insult to injury by staging an unprecedented vice raid Friday at the Venetian Macao during a visit by Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly has a rocky relationship with government leaders.

Or Macau could be signaling it will limit growth for outsiders, defined as anyone not named Ho – as in local gambling godfather Stanley Ho. Ho and his children have stakes in three of Macau’s six casino licenses.

The saga of Lots 7 and 8 unmistakably illustrates that Macau’s unelected, unaccountable government can and will act arbitrarily. Smart investors will understand that hard reality trumps Macau’s glittering casino revenue numbers.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Putting Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

August 15, 2009

Macau’s two biggest American casinos operators are making plans for share sales in Hong Kong, as detailed in my Asia Times report. Analysts are divided on whether the Macau operations of Las Vegas Sands, owner of the Venetian Macao, and Wynn Resorts are worth a gamble. Before placing their bets, investors might also want to consider the leaders of these two companies.

Wynn founder Steve Wynn and LVS chairman Sheldon Adelson are both self-made multi-millionaires. They also share an apparent conviction that success bestows skills beyond their fields of apparent expertise.

Adelson fancies himself as a master of repartee. During LVS’s earnings conference call, according to the transcript from, one analyst trying to discuss that possible stock offering (or IPO for initial public offering) prompted the following exchange:

Analyst: What is the earliest you think you can do something in Hong Kong?
Adelson: What do you mean do something in Hong Kong? You mean go to have dinner there?
Analyst: Well, you will probably do that pretty soon. You probably…
Adelson: We have great Chinese restaurants…

Adelson loves showing off his conviction that he’s the cleverest guy in the room. In BBC interview just after LVS’s close escape from bankruptcy last year, reporter Sharanjit Leyl asked about financing the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the most expensive casino resort ever built, price estimates reaching US$8 billion. Adelson brushed aside the inquiries. When Leyl rephrased the question to ask about his “problem with money,” a visibly annoyed Adelson replied, “I don’t have a problem with money. We don’t have any arguments, any confrontations. Money and I get along very well.”

Steve Wynn wouldn’t talk about his company’s IPO filing during his conference call with analysts last month, but he opted to play talk radio demagogue. “Right now we are watching the United States government deal with complex problems that clearly seem to be beyond their intellectual ability,” Wynn said. “Right now, we are more afraid of Washington than we are of the economy.”

Denouncing “bombastic rhetoric from the White House and from the administration,” Wynn said, “There is an attitude that, there is a very definite bias in this administration that business is bad… The President of the United States has his own office and he has his own group of little cadre of people that agree with him and look at the world just the way he does and they don’t listen to anybody from what I’ve heard from my business friends. They invite people down to Washington and tell them what they think, they don’t ask or listen to anybody.”

In this conference call meant to discuss company earnings and business prospects, Wynn went on to praise China – “maybe we could all learn a lesson by watching what happens there…. but I’ll bet you that government sees to it that economy and that workforce is protected” – and Macau’s incoming Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on, who was chosen to run unopposed in a backroom deal and endorsed by the 300 electors (also chosen in an unopposed election) voting for Macua’s leader in the local Beijing-approved version of democracy.

Chui is a member of the cabal of families that have dominated Macau for generations. His candidacy sparked outrage among grassroots Macau, including a protest ad that had to be run in Hong Kong newspaper because no Macau publication would dare risk the wrath of the entrenched elite.

From Macau’s handover to China in December 1999 until this May, Chui served secretary for social and cultural affairs, reportedly using his position to enrich family business interests. Chui undeniably did little to improve Macau dismal social services, most notably healthcare, Chui’s area of academic training including a US PhD, despite Macau’s vast government surpluses thanks to the casino boom. People in Macau at best see Chui as an empty suit fronting for big business interests (which, given a chance to do it again, would have never let Wynn or Adelson into Macau), more commonly as a not particularly smart or honest empty suit.

But for Steve Wynn, Chui is a heroic figure. Contrasting Chui with the US leadership, Wynn praised Chui for “understanding issues that affect people” as well as exemplifying the “the level of education and sophistication that permeates the Chinese, the People’s Republic of China government.

“These are very smart people, very highly educated people, very thoughtful people. My own feeling is the government of Macau will protect and so will the central government in Beijing and the regional government in Zhuhai at Guangdong province, Guangzhou. The government will do a very enlightened and thoughtful job of protecting the interest of the citizens and the business enterprises that support the health of those businesses.”

Yet, no matter how lavish their praise for China’s government, Wynn and other international investors in China never get around to trading in their passports for Chinese citizenship.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.


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