* MGM Mirage executive hired to lead project
* First resort will be MGM Grand Ho Tram (Adds company comments, byline)
By Deena Beasley
LOS ANGELES, April 21 (Reuters) - A group backed by hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners plans to open in early 2013 Vietnam’s first Las Vegas-style casino resort in a coastal area to be called the Ho Tram Strip.
Asian Coast Development Ltd said on Wednesday that it had named Lloyd Nathan, formerly president of MGM Mirage’s (MGM.N) global gaming development, as its chief executive officer, a post from which he will oversee the project’s financing and construction.
The Vancouver-based investment group has hired Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage to operate the $400 million, 1,100-room resort, which will be called the MGM Grand Ho Tram.
Asian Coast, which holds a 50-year investment license from the Vietnamese government, said overall plans call for a $4.2 billion project that will encompass five resorts, two of which will include gambling.
Nathan said the license allows 180 table games and 2,000 electronic games (such as slot machines), split between the two casino properties.
He also said Asian Coast expects to determine an operator for the second resort sometime later this year.
“The Ho Tram project represents one of the most compelling investment opportunities in the integrated casino resort industry,” Harbinger Capital CEO Philip Falcone said in a statement.
U.S.-based casino operators have focused for several years on expanding into Asia, where gambling is popular, but legal outlets are few.
China’s Macau, the only place in the country where gambling is legal, surpassed Las Vegas several years ago to become the world’s largest source of gambling revenue.
MGM has a joint-venture project in Macau, and rival Wynn Resorts (WYNN.O) this week opened its second casino-resort in the Chinese enclave.
Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS.N) has three casinos in Macau and later this month will open an integrated casino resort in Singapore, the island nation’s second such project.
Asian Coast Development said its multi-resort property will be built on 420 acres (168 hectares) of land along beaches bordering the South China Sea in southwest Vietnam, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City.
Nathan said site construction work is already underway. (Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn; editing by Carol Bishoporic)