Ex-Sands exec Weidner attacked in Japan role

September 2, 2021

Wakayama Palace stands tall in the prefecture bidding for a Japan casino license. (Photo courtesy Wakayama Prefecture Govt)

Former Las Vegas Sands president and COO William Weidner may be the most accomplished gaming executive still in the business. Weidner’s 14 years with LVS included building its Vegas Strip Venetian complex, gaining entry to Macau, developing Cotai as world’s most lucrative casino cluster, winning a license in Singapore and conceiving what’s become the world’s most admired integrated resort there. So Weidner provided instant credibility when he joined Canadian private equity investor Clairvest’s effort to win an integrated resort license in Wakayama Prefecture near Osaka.

Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be surprising that Weidner came under attack via anonymous documents recounting legal settlements of US government charges against Las Vegas Sands during his tenure. The documents may aim to weaken Wakayama’s IR bid, but it’s equally likely they stem from a long running dispute involving Weidner’s Global Gaming Asset Management firm and Philippine billionaire Enrique Razon’s Bloomberry Resorts, or a Taiwan’s American Asian Entertainment’s US$12 billion lawsuit against LVS over termination of their Macau partnership, in which Weidner was a leading actor but is not a party to the litigation.

In any case, the attack is another ugly aspect of Japan’s casino legalization saga that has limited public support and gotten the cold shoulder from leading international casino companies and Japan’s largest cities and tourist destinations.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

India failure threatens freedom globally

August 29, 2021

The decline of democracy in India highlights challenges freedom faces around the world and how malevolent forces exploit them. To Kill a Democracy by acclaimed journalist Debasish Roy Chowdhury and renowned political scientist John Keane combines reporting from deep within the Indian polity and academic rigor to portray the issues tearing at the social fabric of the world’s largest democracy. (Full disclosure, Chowdhury and I have worked together intermittently since the mid-2000s.) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu sectarianism runs counter to democratic tenets such as equal treatment under the law, but the authors note that many of his opponents embrace similarly toxic tactics.

Subtitled “India’s passage to despotism,” the book holds that democracy extends beyond electoral processes and rights guarantees. “To the man in the street, democracy doesn’t exist, and he knows the situation isn’t right,” Chowdhury explained during the online launch of To Kill a Democracy. “He knows it in the daily struggle and choices he has to make between his budget and his family’s needs, in the frantic phone calls from his wife if their daughter is 10 minutes late coming home. This could not be the kind of life that the patriots who founded the country meant for him to be living 74 years after India’s independence.”

The authors argue that providing a decent standard of living underpins democracy, and India’s failure on this point has planted the seeds for alternatives. As in so many other fields, technology and Covid have accelerated preexisting trends. Although economic desperation is far less severe in developed countries, similar alienation drives the success of other would be despots. People feel that politics dominated by an elite no longer responds to what matters most to them. Chowdhury and Keane note the irony that those impulses are most often exploited by the rich and powerful, seeking to enhance their own positions.

It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s an important one to understand and address. For nuclear armed India, and its 1.4 billion people plus the world at large, the alternatives are terrifying.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Measuring Macau’s loudest jingling

July 27, 2021

Lawrence Ho’s Melco Group operates City of Dreams Macau and gets high marks for recent non-gaming initiatives.

Macau casinos’ second quarter results, still below 40% of pre-pandemic levels, just show whose pockets are jingling loudest. What really matters in Macau won’t be found in earnings reports, due to factors that will to outlast Covid-19.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Las Vegas Sands, Genting avert Strip rematch

July 14, 2021

Genting Group opened Resorts World Las Vegas on the Strip in June amid a strong rebound in Sin City. (Photo courtesy of Paul Steelman.)

Las Vegas Sands and Genting looked set to extend their Singapore competition to the Vegas Strip. But three months ahead of Genting opening US$4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas in June, LVS announced a deal selling its Las Vegas resorts and convention center to focus on Asia .

This pair of casino giants, whose Singapore properties Marina Bay Sands and Resorts Wold Sentosa rank among the most lucrative integrated resorts on earth, could square off elsewhere. Asia is an obvious pick, though given the paucity of new opportunities in the region, it’s just as likely LVS and Genting could open a new chapter of their rivalry in New York or Texas.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

In March, Las Vegas Sands announced sale of its flagship Venetian complex to focus on Asia. (Company provided photo)

Bank of Bangladesh money trail crosses Macau

June 29, 2021

The US$101 million theft from the Bank of Bangladesh account at the US Federal Reserve Bank of New York saw a majority of the funds sent the Philippines, much of it laundered via Manila gambling tables. A new BBC World Service podcast, The Lazarus Heist, looks at the theft in the broader context of North Korea hacking and other criminal activities. It’s a thoroughly compelling yarn.

Podcast producers reached out to me to help them understand the casino business in Asia. Some of my comments about Macau are featured in the ninth installment of the series, which begins in earnest around the seven minute mark, with my remarks beginning after 14:30.

I’m delighted to say that fellow CNN alumnus Mike Chinoy is also featured in the same podcast episode, sharing his insights into North Korea. During my 1991-1995 tenure in the CNN newsroom, amid the William Kennedy Smith (Blue Dot) rape trial and the OJ Simpson murder trial, Chinoy’s unflinchingly honest reporting from Beijing and North Korea – along with Christiane Amanpour’s life saving work in Bosnia – made us proud to be associated with the network.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for iGaming Business, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Melco hides Stanley Ho ties in plain sight

June 2, 2021


Melco used “Stanley Ho’s strong and enduring links with Macau and its business community” to secure the land for its flagship City of Dreams resort in Cotai.

Australia Broadcasting Corp’s Four Corners investigation of Crown Sydney skewers James Packer and former New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell. It touches on links between Melco and Stanley Ho that the Hong Kong and New York listed casino operator has managed to hide in plain sight for 15 years. Melco’s culture of denial enabled its futile bid to acquire Crown that lost US$235 million while awarding a US$19 million bonus to the doomed deal’s architect, Melco chairman Lawrence Ho.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for iGaming Business, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Time for time out in Japan casino saga

May 5, 2021

The outlook for casinos has darkened on Osaka’s Yumeshima island and across Japan due to delays, fastidious regulations and Covid-19.

Efforts to legalize so-called integrated resorts in Japan began in the previous century and passed its final legislative hurdle in July 2018 to the delight of the global gaming industry. Since then, bureaucrats and the pandemic have conspired to delay the process, dissipating enthusiasm. To recapture momentum for casinos, Japan must call time out to fix its regulations. The outcome of casino legalization will impact Japan for decades, so taking a few months to get it right makes overwhelming sense.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Mobile betting on hold as New York pols squabble

April 7, 2021

Genting Malaysia’s Resorts World New York City slot machine parlor at Aqueduct race track could seek a full casino license this year, depending on extended budget negotiations in state capital Albany.

Improvements to New York’s gaming rules that put special interests ahead of business success and public benefit await a state budget deal, originally due April 1. Budget negotiations have gone into overtime to enact mobile sports betting and offer three casino licenses in the New York City area, where currently only slot machines are allowed in three locations.

Mobile sports betting remains particularly contentious, with Governor Andrew Cuomo, legislators, the Native American Oneida Nation and local officials pushing different plans. No regulated industry can ever completely beat the political house, but New York stands out for government consistently trumping common sense.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Seeking freedom via wartime Macau

March 30, 2021

As Jews across the world celebrate Passover, the liberation from slavery in Egypt, this year again complete with a live plague, Strangers On The Praia recalls the pandemic of hatred in the 1930s and 1940s that sent Europe’s Jews running for their lives halfway around the world.

Distinguished author Paul French uses the story of a young refugee with a toxic J stamped on her German passport to illustrate the desperate plight of scores of Jews that landed in Macau. A colony of neutral Portugal in a sea of Japanese occupation, Macau provided a temporary haven and slender ray of hope for migrants seeking a path to safety.

At Passover, Jews are instructed to retell the story of slavery in Egypt so that no generation will forget. Strangers On The Praia portrays another world gone mad with hate in microcosm. In this modern moment of plague, it’s a reminder of how easily prejudice turns poisonous and how far ranging its impact.

It’s also a reminder of the overwhelming goodness of humanity. This concise volume portrays Macau’s efforts to care for the refugees – not just Jews, but some 300,000 souls fleeing Japanese occupied China and Hong Kong, including future gambling mogul Stanley Ho – that tripled the city’s population at a time of great privation for all and tells of great risks taken to help others. Published by Blacksmith Books in Hong Kong, Strangers On The Praia delivers a moving tale for a holiday season in a difficult time.

Macau’s Inner Harbor in the 1930s.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, also from Blacksmith Books, 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Raffles Extends Galaxy Macau Winning Streak

March 12, 2021
Raffles at Galaxy Macau, expected to open in the second half of this year as part of the resort’s Phase 3 expansion.

Forbes Asia coverage of Hong Kong’s Richest emphasized that non-gaming revenue helped boost Galaxy Entertainment Group in 2020 and that bodes well for the future of the Macau casino operator controlled by Lui Che Woo and family. This month, Galaxy announced its Phase 3 expansion will feature a Raffles Hotel, scheduled to open in the second half of this year at its flagship Galaxy Macau.

“The Raffles brand and heritage is perfectly complementary to our strategy of delivering greater, elevated experiences, and true to our ‘World Class, Asian Heart’ mantra,” Galaxy vice chairman Francis Lui, who runs the business on behalf of father, says. Galaxy has been especially adept at landing Asian brands not yet present in the Hong Kong-Macau tourist area, starting with Okura and Banyan Tree in Galaxy Macau’s first phase.

The iconic Raffles brand in a spectacular architectural package fits Lui’s vision of making Galaxy Macau a travel destination with gaming, not just a casino. That vision coincides with Beijing’s goal to create a “world center for tourism and leisure” in Macau. With casino concessions due to expire next year, that convergence also bodes well for Galaxy’s future.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and 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 www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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