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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 December, 2003, 00:45 GMT
Macau's gambling shake-up

By Chris Hogg
BBC, Macau

Visitors to the former Portuguese enclave of Macau in south-eastern China will see two huge developments taking shape along the harbour front.

Lisboa Casino
The gambling industry has been opened up to foreign companies

A major shake-up of Macau's gambling laws has, for the first time, allowed foreign operators to compete for a share of Macau's biggest business, the gaming industry.

And both foreign firms and local operators have big plans.

David Chow is a Macau entrepreneur, who is recreating a corner of Ancient Egypt in his casino.

A technician is putting the finishing touches to a concrete pillar supporting the roof of what looks like Tutankhamen's tomb.

When it is finished, the statue at the top will look down on the green baize, the cards, the chips and the expensive jewellery of the "high rollers".

"We change the environment, we change the service, we change the renovation, and we give these people more," Mr Chow said.

It is a billion dollar business that has brought him great success, but it is just the start.

Competition

The so-called "high rollers - the hard core gamblers - who come here to Macau, do not tend to stay more than a day. Mr Chow wants to change that. He has big plans for gaming in his city.

We expect to have casino operators that can bring significant added value in terms of other activities
Dr George Olviera
Macau Gaming Commission

"The customer is the lion, give them whatever they like, serve whatever they want... give them the best environment, that's all .. no big secrets," he said.

With dancehalls, discos, slot machines and rides, Fisherman's Wharf, the new venture he is building nearby with another local tycoon, will be quite different to anything else here already.

But the project will face competition from just across the road.

On the Macau waterfront an American company called Venetian is building an exact replica of one of its properties in Las Vegas - it will be a casino and entertainment complex.

"The overall height of the building, including its signage, will be about 70 metres. At the moment we're about the 25 to 30 mark," said the deputy site manager, Steven Daniels.

Value

When it is finished the new resort and casino should look like a Las Vegas Hotel, transported to the Far East.

The income from tourists and gamblers is relied upon heavily here. That is why they need to bring the facilities up to date.

Dr George Olviera, a member of Macau's Gaming Commission, said he wanted to shift the emphasis of Macau's casinos away from focussing on "hard core" gamblers.

"We do not want to scare them away," he said, "but we expect to have casino operators that can bring significant added value in terms of other activities."

And already there are signs that Macau's more established players are smartening themselves up to meet the challenge from the new overseas operators.

A more competitive market, though, could yet produce a lot more winners in Macau - in a commercial sense at least.




SEE ALSO:
Macau's colonial blood drains away
31 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Macau casinos hit the big time
22 Feb 02  |  Business
Macau handover: Asia's last colony
20 Dec 99  |  Asia-Pacific


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