* Plans to build casino on Macau’s Cotai strip by late 2011
* No further expansion in Asia for next 5 yrs, focus on Cotai
* Vegas will struggle, Macau to continue growing
* Singapore casinos not a threat
(Adds analyst quote, details)
By Sui-Lee Wee
MACAU, April 21 (Reuters) - U.S. gambling tycoon Steve Wynn said he may move his company’s headquarters to Macau as it embarks on a major expansion there, in a nod to the rise of the former Portuguese enclave as the world’s new gambling capital.
The Las Vegas Strip, where Wynn Resorts (WYNN.O) currently has its head office, has long since seen its gambling revenues far eclipsed by Macau, which has drawn on the China’s growing economic might and passion for punting.
“I love it out here,” Wynn told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday in Macau. “I’m going to bring it (the potential relocation of Wynn Resorts’ headquarters) up at our board meeting in May. But I have to persuade my staff first.” Wynn, who has said he wants to make the firm a “Chinese company,” made his remarks as his company’s Asia unit, Wynn Macau (1128.HK), officially opened its $600-million Encore casino-hotel in Macau.
The property is Wynn Macau’s second in the market, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, and will be the only major new casino opening there this year.
Wynn’s possible shift of its headquarters to Macau would be seen positively by the Macau and Chinese governments, as it would show the firm’s commitment towards the enclave, said Macquarie analyst Gary Pinge.
“It would also illustrate to investors that Wynn Resorts is getting more active in terms of making investment decisions in the region as more jurisdictions open up for gaming,” Pinge said.
Wynn has one of the strongest balance sheets among its peers, having raised nearly $1.9 billion in a Hong Kong IPO of its Macau unit last year.
But further expansion plans in Asia would have to wait as the firm plans to concentrate on its project on Macau’s Cotai Strip, being billed as the next Las Vegas Strip, for about the next five years, Wynn said.
His more conservative approach contrasts with Adelson, who now owns three properties in Macau, including the massive Venetian resort, and has said he is looking for opportunities throughout Asia.
"I don't have jurisdictional fever because again, I don't think 'bigger is better.' I think 'better is better,'" Wynn said. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Graphic on Macau casinos: link.reuters.com/gux68j Graphic on gambling revenues: link.reuters.com/hux68j ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Wynn, 68, whose former company Mirage Resorts was snapped up in a hostile takeover by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian’s MGM Grand to form MGM Mirage (MGM.N) in 2000, is known for building grand “destination resorts” in Las Vegas such as Bellagio and the Mirage.
He said his firm would start construction late next year of its first mega casino resort on Macau’s Cotai strip, dismissing fears the Macau government’s move to freeze new casino building could hurt Wynn’s expansion plans.
The project would be completed by late 2013 or early 2014, said Wynn, who has a degenerative eye disease and tunnel vision.
“We’re not bumping into the current desire to cool things off,” Wynn said, adding he flies out to Macau once a month and could stay for three weeks at a time if the relocation of Wynn Resorts headquarters is approved.
Macau’s Cotai Strip, a dusty reclaimed strip of land in the enclave, is readying itself for two massive casino openings in 2011 — one owned by Sands China and the other by Galaxy Entertainment Group (0027.HK).
Sands China is on track to open its Cotai Strip mega-resort by September 2011, its chief executive said in an interview with Reuters on Monday, brushing off recent fears of further delays for the troubled project. [nTOE63I065].
Wynn said he sees zero impact from the two Singapore casino resorts — one owned by Genting Singapore (GENS.SI) and the other by Las Vegas Sands, which will open the $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands, in six days.
With 414 suites and villas and an added 20 percent of VIP gambling space, Wynn Macau is upping the stakes in Macau, which is crammed with 34 casinos.
Wynn said Macau’s gambling market will continue to grow, but the Las Vegas Strip will struggle because of excess capacity, largely due to MGM Mirage’s new $8.5 billion CityCenter development.
“It’s difficult to ascertain — is there a recovery in Vegas, slow or otherwise, when MGM just added 6,500 rooms?” Wynn said. “The poor sons of gun — they’ve done more damage to themselves than anybody else.”
(Editing by Lincoln Feast)
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