Posts Tagged ‘casino gambling’

MGM ‘lion’ picks Macau over Atlantic City

March 19, 2010

A couple of years ago, I visited Atlantic City to write a feature as a special correspondent for Macau Business magazine. My only previous visit to Atlantic City had been to try out for Jeopardy about 15 years earlier, when I took the test, ate the buffet at Merv Griffin’s hotel (Merv also produced Jeopardy), and drove straight home.

Atlantic City was depressing back then, like the Louis Malle film of the same name, and it was still sad when I returned. The few bright spots included Angelo’s Fairmont Tavern, a red brick Italian restaurant with great fish and a signed photo of Frank Sinatra over the bar; The Quarter, a Cuban themed mall at The Tropicana, though the hotel had been seized by regulators en route to its third owner in about as many years after a bankruptcy; and Borgata, the newest, biggest and fanciest casino in town that brought Las Vegas style and customers under 60 to Atlantic City.

Last week, MGM Mirage announced that it would sell its 50 percent stake in Borgata to settle a five year long probe by New Jersey casino regulators into its Macau partnership with Pansy Ho, the daughter of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho. State investigators deemed the younger Ho an “unsuitable” partner for MGM. In the wake of that finding, MGM chose Macau over Atlantic City and kept its partnership with Pansy Ho, as I wrote in Asia Times.

“Absolutely the right decision for MGM,” IGamiX managing partner Ben Lee told me. “Asia is a short, medium and long term growth story. The States is a mature market. If MGM gave up Macau, they would find it extremely difficult to get back in again, and nobody in Asia would ever take them seriously after that.”

The kicker is the report from New Jersey investigators skewers MGM for ignoring its own findings about Stanley Ho’s underworld ties and his relationship with Pansy Ho, and for being less than forthright with casino regulators. The report gives a whole new meaning to MGM lion besides that 63 ton bronze sculpture of Leo outside the MGM Grand Macau.

But MGM doesn’t seem to think its dishonesty matters, even though it runs highly regulated businesses in several other jurisdictions, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and hopes to get another stock listing in Hong Kong this year. MGM acts as if its settlement with New Jersey puts that corporate duplicity, now in plain public view, behind it; instead, perhaps the report should lead investors and regulators ask, “If MGM lied to New Jersey, how can we be sure it’s not lying to us?” Otherwise MGM’s roaring deceit and arrogance will keep paying off.

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.

Macau turns 10

December 18, 2009

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of Macau’s switch from Portuguese colony to Special Administrative Region of China. Over the past decade, Macau has been successful beyond anyone’s expectations. In 1999, with criminal gangs shooting it out in the streets, this city of 550,000, measuring just 29.2 square kilometers (11.3 miles), with virtually no resources, three official languages that don’t include English, and a centuries-long legacy of misrule looked set to remain a backwater with a colorful past and grim future. Ten years later, Macau has attracted billions of dollars in investment en route to becoming the world’s leading gambling destination, boasting the world’s fourth highest per capita GDP.

So why isn’t Beijing smiling about Macau’s success? Read all about it in Asia Times.

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 www.AlphaRising.com, 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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